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Sen. Cruz Delivers Remarks on Senate Floor Urging Immediate Release of Americans Austin Tice, CITGO 6

December 18, 2019

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202-228-7561

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor to renew his call for the immediate release of Americans Austin Tice, a veteran Marine Corps Captain and Texan, who has been kidnaped and detained in Syria, and the six CITGO executives, five of whom are Texans, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Venezuela. Sen. Cruz said:

"Mr. President, I rise today to talk about one of the most complicated areas where our diplomats have to engage -- when brutal regimes and terrorist groups seize Americans and use them as hostages, hoping to extract concessions from our government. These are situations that are infuriating and they are heartbreaking, and at the same time they are immensely complicated. There are no easy solutions when dealing with hostage takers.

"We know what doesn't work. We know that paying ransom for hostages, as the Obama administration did with Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, only incentivizes more hostage taking.

"It is exactly the behavior you would expect from hostage takers, and it's exactly the behavior that we've seen play out over and over again.

"My colleagues and I, along the Trump administration, have sought other ways of securing the release of American hostages. Sometimes what's called for is diplomatic pressure. And so early in my tenure in the Senate, the very first bill that I passed into law was legislation that kept Iranian regime figures who had seized American hostages in 1979 from receiving diplomatic visas to come into the United States.

"I also recently joined with Sen. Cotton to introduce the Global Hostage Act, a bill that would require the president to impose sanctions on foreign government officials responsible for taking Americans hostage. The Trump administration recently secured the release of Americans held hostage in Iran, without the need for pallets of cash flown in in the darkness of night.

"Nevertheless, all of these solutions are imperfect, and so it is no surprise that even in countries where we enjoy successes, those successes are often heartbreakingly partial, with hostages left behind. Today I want to talk about two countries specifically where Americans from my home state of Texas are languishing today.

"In Syria, we have seen some Americans released, while others remain away from their families. This summer, American Sam Goodwin and Canadian Kristian Baxter were released by captors in Syria, which were joyful developments on their own and encouraging signs of progress.

"But Austin Tice remains in captivity, after more than seven agonizing years. Austin is a Texan and a veteran Marine Corps Captain who served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was working as a freelance journalist to inform Americans about the horror of the Syrian conflict when he was captured.

"I've repeatedly had the opportunity to sit down and visit with Austin's parents, Marc and Debra. Austin's picture sits on my desk, here in my Senate office. And I remain committed to working with President Trump, with the Trump administration, with my colleagues here in Congress, to bring Austin home.

"I joined with 51 Senators and 120 Representatives to write a letter to President Trump affirming that "the Tice family and your own administration are confident that Austin is alive" and calling on President Trump to redouble our country's efforts to bring him home. No one should doubt the entire U.S. government's commitment to this task.

"Secondly, in Venezuela we have also seen partial progress, but partial progress of a different sort. In the case of the CITGO 6 - five American citizens and one permanent American resident - they have been released from jail, which is a good thing, but they remain under house arrest.

"So, while Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas, Tomeu Vadell, and Jose Angel Pereira are no longer under the constant threat of dying from abuse and neglect, they are still very much held captive and away from their loved ones.

"Today, here in the gallery - Gabriela and Alirio Rafael, the daughter and the brother of Aliro Zambrano. These five Texans and one Louisianan are now two years into their nightmarish journey. They had been summoned to Caracas a week shy of Thanksgiving and upon their arrival, they were summarily detained, and remained in jail on orders of the Venezuelan military. They would go days without food and months without sunlight, but the random punishments were nothing if not persistent.

"I have met members of the CITGO 6 families many times. Alexandra Forseth, Alirio Zambrano's daughter, shared with me haunting accounts that came from her father. He described exactly how harrowing the experience has been, and the physical toll that it has taken.

"These families have left no stones unturned in their efforts to bring back their loved ones. They have hired lawyers who have grappled with the shifting and inadequate legal institutions in Venezuela, and they have found little recourse.

"After years of this literal darkness, just last week, the CITGO 6 were released to house arrest. This is progress. It is undeniable progress. But it is far from enough, and here too we must redouble our efforts to ensure their full release, to ensure they can come home to America.

"Every effort must be made to bring them back to the United States, to their families, to their children, to their homes.

"Sergio Cardenas, the son of Gustavo Cardenas, was born with a rare disease and at the age of 17, he is battling chronic congestive heart failure. The doctors and his family are gravely concerned that he will never see his father.

"Jose Toledo's mother is severely handicapped and requires constant medical attention and care. Alirio and Jose Luis both have teenage daughters currently in high school. These families are waiting for their fathers, for their sons, for their husbands to come home.

"Venezuela has a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. If human rights mean anything, it is that citizens of all countries are entitled to speedy due process and that human rights violations must have human rights remedies. The CITGO 6 have suffered enough. It is past time for them to be released back to their families.

"Let me finally say, I believe that the light of truth - calling attention to these human rights atrocities - can overcome the darkness of imprisonment. The voices of the families and the voices of those who speak out on their behalf, resonate and resonate loudly. And those who are keeping Americans wrongfully imprisoned, who are committing evil, should know that we will not give up. We will not rest until these Americans are set free."

Watch Sen. Cruz's floor speech here.

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