Enduring a Wrongful Detention and/or Hostage Situation

By Alirio Zambrano

A member of the “Citgo Six”, wrongfully detained in Venezuela from 2017 – 2023.

I was held captive for 1,775 days in political prisons in Venezuela. I do not wish this nightmare upon anyone.

However, in the unfortunate case that you are trapped in such a situation, I am sharing some of the lessons that my family and I painstakingly learned over those difficult years. My hope is that this post in some way lightens your load and gives you the strength to continue walking the path to freedom.

When looking at other hostage situations in different criminal regimes, I can tell you that many of these organizations are designed to break you, and they are frighteningly similar. They have no respect for basic human rights and their manipulated justice system is just an extension of the regime’s abuse of power. They will try to break you every day, and they will try to get whatever information they can get from you; they will walk a fine line between killing you and keeping you alive so that they can try to trade you for whatever or whoever is important to them.

It has been said many times, but I can tell you it is true; they can try to take your dignity away, but the power of your mind will help you survive your ordeal.

You will need to focus on your good memories; you will need to think about what you are going to do once you get out of that situation. You need to make a promise of love — love for your dearest people, that you will do whatever it takes to survive one day at a time in body, mind, and soul.

You will need to have faith in a greater or divine belief.  Yes, there is evil in the world; you can see it, and you can sense it like never before, but there is also goodness and honor; you are one of its best representatives. You know that your loved ones are doing everything in their power to get you back.

For the families, one of the main recommendations is to go public, be loud, persistent, and to not to be afraid of the repercussions in your local government or in the criminal regime. You do not want your loved one to be forgotten.

Please seek help from organizations that have experience in the type of situations that you are now in, such as, but not limited to:

Please get to know your rights as the family of a hostage / wrongful detainee, starting with the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act.

Take good care. Like they say on any flight “put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else”. One of the most important sources of strength for your loved one is that you do your best to stay well in every aspect, particularly your mental health. Yes, it is extremely difficult, but it is one of the few aspects where you typically have some direct influence and access to helpful resources. Always remember who you are doing it for. In most cases, it takes a long time to get your loved one back, so you need to remember to stay well for the long haul and for their return.

Have faith in your loved one that is detained. That person will do their best to survive. Even if you cannot directly communicate, you would be amazed at the news that travels to the depths of these places from your efforts. It gives your loved one much needed hope and strength to keep going another day.

When you think you can’t keep going, just know that everyone in these situations has these low moments – sadness and desolation like you may never have experienced before. Have faith that you are doing the best you can and that for your loved one that is enough.