By Keren Torres and Luc Cohen
BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela/CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela on Monday said it had arrested two managers at state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, alleging that they sent confidential information to the U.S. government, while their relatives marched to demand their release.
In a statement broadcast on state television, a commission appointed by socialist President Nicolas Maduro to restructure the OPEC nation’s oil industry said authorities on Friday detained Alfredo Chirinos and Aryenis Torrealba, who were managers in the company’s supply and trading department.
“Both officials are responsible for the delivery of strategic, sensitive and confidential information to the U.S. government, so it can attack our oil industry,” the commission said in a statement, without providing evidence.
Reuters had previously reported their arrests, which took place after the United States ramped up sanctions on PDVSA and some of its trading partners. Washington has been pressuring Venezuela to oust Maduro, who it calls a corrupt dictator usurping power after rigging a 2018 re-election vote.
Around 30 people, including relatives of Chirinos and Torrealba, marched to the public defenders’ office in the western city of Barquisimeto to demand their release, arguing they were targeted for speaking out against corruption in PDVSA.
“Where are the corrupt ones? Where are the bosses? Our children tried to fight for a clean, fair PDVSA,” said Belkis Barrios, 65, Torrealba’s mother and a retired biology professor. “They want to silence them.”
Relatives said Chirinos and Torrealba were being held by the Directorate for Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) in Caracas, and had not been given the right to an attorney or to communicate with their relatives.
Both Barrios and Mercedez Azuaje, Chirinos’ mother, said they and their children were supporters of the socialist “revolution” launched by Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez.
“They are being accused of treason, which is totally unfair because they have been defenders of this revolutionary processs,” said Azuaje, a 69-year-old housewife. “They have been anti-imperialists their whole lives.”
(Reporting by Keren Torres in Barquisimeto; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, David Gregorio and Andrea Ricci)