2 Nov, 2023Overcoming Captivity – Interview with Jose Pereira
“Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” – Roy Bennett
Are you facing the greatest challenge of your life right now? Have you succumbed to it thinking there is no way of surpassing its overwhelming gravity?
Adversity is part of life. It makes us grow stronger and helps us become better human beings. We should not allow ourselves to be defeated by it.
We can overcome every difficulty if we choose and decide to do so.
This is exactly what my guest today has done. In this episode, I will be speaking to Jose Pereira, a former CEO who has survived one of the most unimaginable difficulties that could happen in life. He was part of the CITGO 6, a group of executives who were held captive in Venezuela for five years.
His phenomenal story is one you should not miss. Listen in. Discover how he surpassed the greatest test of his life and evolved to be the person he is now.
The power to survive and evolve resides within you.
⚡️ There is an inner force within us that gives us strength in times of difficulties.
⚡️ We can decide to convert adversity into something meaningful.
⚡️ We can switch gears and find our passion when we find meaning in life.
🎯 1:47 The beginning of Jose Pereira’s story.
🎯 8:28 The day Jose Pereira was captured.
🎯 13:15 In captivity – discovering the force within.
🎯 17:15 Having hope and deciding to manage.
🎯 19:40 What the captors wanted.
🎯 21:00 The negotiation process from 2018-2022.
🎯 28:37 Jose Periera’s evolution after captivity.
Send us a message and tell us what is your biggest takeaway about this episode. 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
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Pete Cohen (00:00.534)
Jose, thank you so much for joining me. How are you?
Pete Cohen (00:07.594)
Oh, it's a pleasure. Listen, I'm excited to have this conversation with you. We met on LinkedIn a few weeks ago and on an audio space in there, and I heard you tell a little bit of your story. And I thought, wow, this is something that I would love to share with the world because you don't hear stories like this every single day. But for those of us that don't know who Jose is, he is an adversity and resilience coach. He's in Houston, Texas.
Tell us a little bit about where should we start? Where would you like to start with your story?
jose pereira (00:42.682)
Well, let me tell you, it's a good start today because two days ago I had my first anniversary that I came back from being five years an international hostage. So for the audience that doesn't know my case, let me begin from the beginning. I'm a former oil and gas executive. I worked 45 years in the oil and gas.
I began my career in Venezuela because I'm Venezuelan born, dual citizen. So I began my career in Venezuela in the back in the 80s when Venezuela was a wealthy country and the oil industry of Venezuela was the fifth industry of the world. And at that time there was PDVSA, the national oil company. I began my career there in 1985. So I did a wonderful career there.
developed my career and at some point I was transferred to here to the to the US affiliated that is Citgo. Citgo Petroleum belongs is part of the family of PDVSA but is here located in Houston is a American company with 6,000 gas stations so everybody here in the US knows Citgo because it's all over the US gas station. The logo of Citgo is all over and by the way here in the
that logo was since years, even in Boston, in the Boston stadium, there is the same there. So there is a lot of visibility of the company. So I was working in that company and I did my career there. At the end of the time, I began in 2017 to be the CEO of that company. So at the end of my career, I was ready to get retired because even that I was 55 at that point,
I had already 45 years in the oil and gas. I said, OK, I'm done. They were having issues. In that moment, they're having issues with Venezuela, because if you know, there is a regime there. They have more than two decades, and things begin to go bad. And the US government begin to impose sanctions in Venezuela. But to tell you the truth, I never thought that could affect me, because I was an oil and gas guy. I was not a politician.
jose pereira (03:05.298)
So we were called to a last minute meeting in November 2017. And it was supposed to be a one day trip, go make a presentation and come back, that like I did frequently. And that became to be a settlement that we stayed five years there because the situation we became to be the political pawns in the bargain chips of the relation between the US and Venezuela. Big, big deal. So that is.
Pete Cohen (03:33.526)
Wow. I mean, look, obviously there's so much in that story. And for those of us that don't know too much, I mean, I know a little bit about Venezuela and for the last 10 years, there's been a horrible situation there. I know many Venezuelans have left, 20 years. Many of them have left and gone to Colombia. They've got out, right?
jose pereira (03:47.755)
The 10-year has been worth it.
jose pereira (03:54.85)
Here in the US they're coming. I can tell you Pete, it's really a pity. I'm, as Venezuelan born, really heart and my breaks my heart that we were not immigrants, never, because Venezuela was a wealthy country. But since all this regime came there, the problem is everybody's, it's a big diaspora. It's more than seven million people they have left.
And yeah, maybe to me, meaning to Colombia, maybe one and a half here to the US and the rest is all over the world, all over.
Pete Cohen (04:28.874)
Yeah, it's one of those situations that here in the United Kingdom, we don't know too much about the situation. It's not reported to us, but myself being interested in the world and what's going on, I hear, you know, it's terrible, the situation. But you obviously built a career and you must have, from what you said, you must have felt like you were a little bit above what was going on. Like, I'm not in this, I'm not affected by this.
jose pereira (04:54.514)
I never thought I never to tell you that because this is a question they always had got why you came here because I never had no problem. Let me tell you, but by that moment we were revamping a refinery in Aruba. You know, the Aruba, the Island in the Caribbean, we were having a refinery there that we were refurbishing and I, the presentation that I was going to do is what's exactly the status of that. And I was doing that in a very frequent basis. So
I didn't see no problem because I always was traveling back and forward. But I was one day travel. I always, because I knew that the country was really not safe to that moment. So I literally I did that. I landed, went to the business trip and came back. And in the night I was here in my house. So I never stayed there. So, so I never.
Pete Cohen (05:44.146)
So you were looking forward to retirement, right? Retirement was around the corner. You probably had an idea of what your retirement would look like. You were going...
jose pereira (05:47.694)
Oh yeah! Yes, yes, yes!
Well, let me tell you, sorry, go ahead. No, let me tell you how it was. November 2017, as I said, I already had 35 years and I came to talk to Venezuela. One month before this happened, I came to Venezuela because my boss was a high guy of PDVSA and I took him to convince him to get me retired. I was a CEO. I said, hey, guy, I'm done. I'm done, I want to go.
Pete Cohen (05:57.954)
No, no, please.
jose pereira (06:23.226)
I wanted to become a consultant. So back and forward here, proved my retirement for February, three months to get retired. So my plan that day, that's when I think today, I talk to the people, you always are making plans, but you never know. So my plan, my plan was go to the trip, come back, take one month vacation, take a fine, come back.
December and in February I was done with my life. I had a wonderful life that never happened. That never happened.
Pete Cohen (07:01.666)
So you arrived in Venezuela thinking that you were going to be in and out in a day, and you ended up with a five-year captivity. Tell us a little bit about if you don't mind, you know, that day and what happened.
jose pereira (07:17.206)
Oh wow, that was one of the terrible days in my life. And I have been reminded because I said, two days ago I had one year that I came back. And so, the memory begins to give you crazy things. And I was thinking that day, because as I said, the meeting was done. The funny thing is that meeting that I went, I did the meeting. It was a very big ballroom, maybe 1000 person there.
I made my presentation, done. I was gonna have to get out. And suddenly I sit down to say goodbye to the people. And then I see coming like 20 guys with, I call them like RoboCop outfits, because one of the things that today is happening in Venezuela, unfortunately, is part of that. It's something that is called the hostage diplomacy. So I was not aware, now this is one of my things today.
So let me educate the audience about that. So what was going on? Because these country, they have, they're a part of like a evil thing where there are several countries like Iran, China, Russia, Syria, all these club and what they do, they reply that their techniques. So what did the Venezuelan, I didn't know, I was not aware by the way, they replied the Iranian,
counterintelligence force in Iran is called the RIRGC. In Venezuela they called it DJC, but they're exactly the same. This is like a praetorian guard with, if you see, they're scary, they use mask. So when I saw this guy coming and asking for me, my first reaction was that was a mistake, something was going wrong.
Well, let me tell you that they begin a nightmare. It was really a nightmare. We, from that day until the next 10 months, I was totally disappeared. We were putting a place called that submarine, like three stories basement down. There was totally isolated. There was no window, no nothing, no running water. It was terrible.
jose pereira (09:43.314)
Terrible terror. And we lost the sense of time. And we didn't know what was going on. Absolutely nothing. One of the guys that was with me, he found in the floor a small needle. So this guy began to put with a needle to begin to count the days. That's why we recovered the sense of time. Well, the story, long story short, if we say 10 months there,
After 10 months, they gave me a one minute call. When I received that minute call, I could talk with my wife. And my wife said, how are you? I said, I'm alive. And she said, we're working hard to bring you back. So at that moment is that I learned that she was fighting. Today, I can tell it because I'm here. What they were doing, we were six guys. I was the CEO and I have my five top,
executives, VPs, all of my VPs. So we were six guys in that place. And that's why the people maybe in another world, but if you Google it, you will find tons of news about us because the press put us a name that is a brand. It was called the Citgo Six. We became to be the Citgo Six. Citgo because the company is six because we were six. So the press was, for some reason,
They put up that name. That name really became a brand. It became a brand.
Pete Cohen (11:16.17)
And then with the six of you together the whole time.
jose pereira (11:21.082)
No, at the beginning, in those 10 months, no, I was only with one guy. The other were four apart. And by the way, I saw them one year after. We were new, this is something that is difficult to explain because you lose your sense of time, you lose the sense of everything. I didn't knew where this guy were.
Pete Cohen (11:40.087)
jose pereira (11:49.538)
until one year that I saw them.
Pete Cohen (11:54.062)
So when you were in that situation, what was your intention? What was your focus?
jose pereira (12:02.234)
This is something that is, it was evolving because during that those 10 months, really in your mind goes terrible thoughts. Even at some point you think about taking your life, you know, because you feel miserable. But you know, there is something that is,
Today, one thing that I teach to the people, there is like an inner force in us, that when you begin to hear your inner force, is that strength comes out.
Pete Cohen (12:42.486)
Did you did you did you did you hear that? Like, did you become aware of that force during those 10 months?
jose pereira (12:47.726)
Yeah, let me tell you after I heard the voice of my wife. Wow, that was like for me a change. And after that, I began to receive small calls, one, two, maybe three minutes, but she was giving me hints, the things they were going. But again, change it for me was a situation that happened like in that between the 10 months and the first year. The situation was now I'm aware because they were having
a lot of meetings with the US government. The US government was taking care of us since they won, but we didn't know. By the way, we learned that the ambassador of US had gone 11 times to see us and he never could. So that guy, he took the risk, the ambassador of US in Venezuela, he took the risk that when we were transferred to one of the sham trials,
that they put it out only to sign a document that it was deferred, deferred. They were always deferring that because they didn't know nothing to do with it. So that guy went there and he took some photos and those photos are the only photos that are from us in the internet. We were terrible. We looked like Nazis, people in the concentration camp, the Nazis, you know? And...
Pete Cohen (14:17.713)
Obviously you were being fed, right? But not very much or...
jose pereira (14:20.59)
No, no, no. Let me tell you that the food was totally terrible. Well, I don't know if you can call that food. At some point I stayed like two or three days without eating. I lost 100 pounds. So literally, and one of the guy that was with me, he literally, I was so scared that he would look like a skeleton, you know? How you see the photos in the concentration camp, he was like that. Well.
Pete Cohen (14:34.743)
jose pereira (14:49.274)
that situation began to evolve from bad to worst because the situation began to evolve. And then the US government that was Trump at that moment, he was really imposing, putting a lot of pressure in the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan government was taking us like a tool to make a pressure. So every time there was something bad, boom, they went to us.
And they made it to, they knew that. So they, at the point the situation went so bad that they expelled the US ambassador. The US ambassador was expelled from Venezuela. And when he was expelled, we said, oh, well, we're left behind. And what the US government decided is they begin to triangulate with the UN. So a commission of the UN flew to Venezuela. There was a Spanish guy,
Pete Cohen (15:57.79)
Okay, I can still hear you. Yeah.
Yeah, yeah, it's fine.
Pete Cohen (17:20.03)
Yeah, no, let's hang on. Let's just stop for a second because I think what you have is you have another browser open. Just hang on a second as it's saying to me the host should stop the recording for all. Go to the studio setting and choose optimize quality then start recording again. Hang on one second. Let me just, I've never seen this on. Let me just stop the recording for a second because it will save.