HOUSTON – The CITGO 6 are finally home and former CITGO Interim President Jose Pereira is sharing his life-altering experience.
“We have been waiting for this moment for so long,” explained Pereira.
When they were told they were going home, he says they were all in shock.
They were put into an armored truck and drove to the airport. He says they were told the flight would be an hour and a half. This had the group of men guessing where they could be going. They stopped on a small island where they then reportedly got on a U.S. airplane.
“At that moment, there was crying, kind of laughing, kind of clapping, and everybody hugging,” noted Pereira.
Pereira says his wife along with the other families received a call from President Joe Biden, thanking them for their patience and sharing the news they would soon be home.
“All of my family was there, and it was a shocking moment,” recalled Pereira. “What’s kind of crazy is I only knew my grandson by photos, and when he saw me, he recognized me because he’s seen my photo and literally jumped me. I grabbed him and that was it.”
He recounts the moments he was detained, sharing eerie scenes of life over the last five years. He says he was three months away from retiring when they were arrested.
“It was a dark place. There was no food, no running water, no windows, no doors, no books, no radio, no communication; we were totally isolated,” Pereira said.
He says after about a year, they were allowed to have people bring them some food and had some books to read.
There was one book he says helped him get through the long days.
“There is a book, ‘A Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. He wrote a book about how to survive your captivity. I don’t know how he got it, but I got it. It’s amazing because that guy was talking to us, literally. So for me, it’s one of my favorite books ever.”
“All of us were focused on family, [thinking] we need to stay safe for our family. We were thinking every day that someday it would happen. It took five years but it happened in the end.”
Pereira says they never saw a doctor and he endured COVID-19 twice as well as a mild heart attack.
“I am blessed that I am back because I had a lot of health issues. I had a choice to make it something really bad or something that can become an opportunity. By choice, I decided to make it an opportunity. So, I believe I am stronger yes.”
He says he hopes to continue to advocate for others still detained overseas.
“I want to spread the message. I believe we need to give hope to the people that are left behind, so I will be advocating with the Bring Our Family Home Campaign,” Pereira said. “There was a huge network I discovered during these years. There are a lot of people advocating for us. This is happening to a lot of U.S. citizens around the world.”
And he jokes a lot of things have changed while he was away including technology but is slowly getting acclimated to his new “normal”.
“I already opened my Twitter account, so I am going to become a Twitter guy,” he noted.
Pereira says the first thing on his list is to spend time with family and enjoy a Thanksgiving on U.S. soil.
“Now, I learned one day at a time. And one of the things I have to do is because I lost five Thanksgivings with my family. Every time Thanksgiving came it was kind of a milestone there. Every thanksgiving was really bad for our family so I want that to become a very precious day,” he added.
Known as the CITGO 6, the group consisted of former executives of CITGO that were arrested in 2017 on embezzlement charges from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in CITGO bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral.
Last year, they were sentenced to between eight to thirteen years in prison.