CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — There will be an empty chair at the table again this Thanksgiving for the family of Alirio Zambrano.
The Corpus Christi resident is one of the so-called CITGO 6.
The six men were first arrested Nov. 21, 2017, on embezzlement charges. They were sentenced Nov. 26, 2020.
Zambrano received a sentence of eight years and 10 months, while others were sentenced to as long as 13 years in prison.
In April, the CITGO 6 were released under house arrest and were able to contact their families.
“It was actually kind of a healing time where we could FaceTime or whatever when he had access to a phone,” said Alexandra Zambrano-Forseth, Alirio Zambrano’s eldest daughter. “He actually got to see his grandchildren, my sister's daughters, and like actually see them and they see him.”
Last month, the six suddenly were sent back to prison. It's believed it was in retaliation for the extradition of Alex Saab, a Colombian financier with close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, to the United States.
Zambrano's family hoped to at least be able to see him for the holidays. Now, this holiday season will be like the last four, with someone missing from the celebrations.
“There's just some part of you that is always grieving when you're in a situation like this,” Zambrano-Forseth said. “Whenever these holidays come up that you're specifically, you know, supposed to be hanging out with family, you're supposed to be creating memories, and you realize that your dad is languishing in this hole in the ground and there's no reason that he should be there.”
Zambrano-Forseth said the family continues to hope that all six men are released. She said she and her family want people to look at the human aspect of this story, instead of the politics associated with it.
The U.S. State Dept. negotiating team that was formed under the Trump Administration continues its efforts to get the men released. The Biden Administrataion decided to leave the same team in place.