Lessons from 5 years as a POW

After almost five years, Jose Pereira reunited with his wife and family. We make fiction movies from real-life events that caused Jose and his top 5 vice presidents to be held captive.  There’s no better way to describe what happened to Jose and the “Citgo 6” other than saying they were held as the business version of POWs. 

As the Chief Executive Officer of Citgo, Jose was immediately singled out for harsher treatment than the rest of his executives.  The Venezuelan-backed petroleum industry had called Jose and his company’s top leadership to deliver an in-person presentation on November 21, 2017.  His team was immediately captured and spent 1,775 days in make-shift prisons while his guards accused him and his petroleum company of espionage.

After almost five years of intense international pressure, the Venezuelan government finally released Jose and his team.  Jose, a career petroleum company executive, was a much different man when he was reunited with his family on October 1, 2022.  

Losing much of his health and more than 100 pounds of body mass while held prisoner, Jose remained focused on helping his team survive the ordeal and the hope of seeing his family again.

Life is far more valuable than private jets and caviar

Jose was stripped of everything during his captivity, including most of the basics of human existence.  For almost anyone, this kind of traumatic change would be overwhelming.  There’s no way to over-exaggerate how radically Jose’s life changed when, in an instant, he went from the CEO of a major oil company to a business POW with almost no human rights.

For almost the first full year of his captivity, Jose was placed in solitary confinement.  He learned a few things about himself and human nature while spending one year in the hole with no connection to the outside world and virtually no human interaction. 

Many of the luxuries of life immediately lost their luster to Jose when he was fighting for basic survival. This irony wasn’t lost on him when he considered all his sacrifices to get to the top of his company.  You would do well to learn the value of your closest relationships, like Jose experienced as a prisoner. Although no one should ever be illegally held captive like Jose and the Citgo 6, this experience became the fire that tested the worth of his greatest treasures

There’s no price tag for your most valuable relationships

Being stripped of all the luxuries accompanying his wealth and powerful position, Jose was forced to examine what was most valuable in his life.  Being deprived of all human contact showed Jose that his most valuable riches were in his closest relationships. This crash course in the true riches of life became the fire that forged him into a father and husband his family needed.  

If you could put a price tag on your closest relationships, where would their value rank?  This is a challenging question for almost all of us.  It’s easy to say that your relationships are more valuable than your salary or career success, but most people prove the opposite with their time and attention.  Work will always take hours away from your friends and family, but don’t let it push those precious relationships out of your life. 

Is what you’re hoping for stronger than what you’re fighting against?

Hope kept Jose alive in captivity.  After some extraordinary work by the US embassy, Jose could exchange more than 1,000 letters during the 1,775 days of captivity.  Most of those letters came in the last few years.  

It has been said that humans can go weeks without food, days without water, and minutes without oxygen, but we can’t last 1 second without hope.  Jose’s wife and family helped strengthen his hope for release through their letters. Jose secretly shared his hope with the rest of his team by sharing messages from the outside world through the electrical outlets after the guards turned out the lights at night. 

I’ve had the honor of hearing many stories of people wrongfully imprisoned or warriors who survived captivity by borrowing hope through the letters of their friends and family. The power of love has proved more powerful than any torture or capture in human history.  That love has burned bright in the darkest prison cells and dungeons through the letters of loved ones and the messages of friends. 

Few people in history will ever experience the difficulties that Jose and the Citgo 6 experienced during their captivity in Venezuela.  However, it’s a virtual guarantee that everyone reading this article will suffer hardships in the future. Do you have a powerful hope for your future?  Is the hope strengthening you more significant than the problems confronting you?  Let Jose’s path to freedom guide you; never give up hope, never let anything replace your most important relationships, and don’t exchange wealth for love.   

Listen to all of Jose’s incredible story in my recent interview with him HERE.

Further reading

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