March 19 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Thursday demanded Venezuela release six oil executives amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Venezuelan government to release the five U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident known as the Citgo 6 who were detained in the Caribbean nation in November 2017 and charged with corruption, which they deny.
The Trump administration has said they were wrongfully arrested and Pompeo pressed for their release on Thursday, stating they all suffer from weakened immune systems "due to cumulative health problems and face grave health risk if they become infected" with COVID-19.
The statement follows the World Health Organization reporting on Thursday that Venezuela had recorded 36 cases of the infectious and deadly coronavirus, a drastic increase from the two cases recorded on Sunday.
"They have already spent more than two years in jail without an ounce of evidence being brought against them," Pompeo said. "It is time to release them on humanitarian grounds."
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund rejected a written request for $5 billion from embattled President Nicolas Maduro to combat the spread of COVID-19 due to its government not being accepted by the international community.
"Unfortunately, the fund is not in a position to consider this request. As we have mentioned before, IMF engagement with member countries is predicated on official government recognition by the international community, as reflected in the IMF's membership. There is no clarity on recognition at this time," an IMF spokesperson said in a statement.
Maduro had sent the letter earlier Tuesday, stating the money would "contribute significantly to strengthen our detection and response systems."
The United States is one of more than 55 countries that have backed opposition leader Juan Guido's claim to the interim presidency of the country after Maduro's 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate.
Since then, the United States has repeatedly imposed sanctions against Venezuela and nations, entities and individuals it accuses of helping to keep Maduro in power.
Early last month, Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters that the six men held in Venezuela had been moved from house arrest to the infamous Helicoide prison in the capital Caracas.
Abrams said prior to the WHO declaring COVID-19 a pandemic that the State Department was concerned over the men's health.