Venezuela releases 7 jailed Americans; US frees 2 prisoners | News

The prisoner exchange is a rare gesture of goodwill by President Nicholas Maduro as he wants to rebuild relations with the United States after defeating domestic rivals.

Venezuela freed seven Americans in exchange for the release of two grandchildren of President Nicholas Maduro’s wife who were jailed for years by the United States for drug trafficking.

Saturday’s American swap, which included five oil executives held for nearly five years, was the largest sale of detained citizens ever made by the Biden administration.

“These people will soon be reunited with their families and returned to the arms of their loved ones where they belong,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

“Today, after years of wrongful detention in Venezuela, we are bringing home” seven men whom the president named by name. “We celebrate that seven families will be whole again.”

The prisoner swap is a rare gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader wants to rebuild relations with the US after defeating most of his domestic rivals.

The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other US officials – secret talks with a major oil producer come more urgent after sanctions Russia puts pressure on global energy prices.

Those released include five Houston-based Citgo employees – Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira – who were lured to Venezuela in 2017 to attend a meeting The meeting was held at the headquarters of the state-run parent company, the oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were dragged away by masked security personnel who stormed the Caracas meeting room.

There is also Matthew Heath, a former US Marine Corporal who was arrested in 2020 at a barricade in Venezuela on what the US State Department called “speculative” weapons allegations, and Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.

The US freed Franqui Flores and his cousin, Efrain Campo, grandson of “First Warrior” Cilia Flores, as Maduro has called his wife.

These men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting in 2015 and immediately taken to New York to face trial. They were convicted the following year in a highly charged case that cast a shadow over US drug trafficking allegations at the highest levels of the Maduro government.

The Biden administration is under pressure to do more to bring home about 60 Americans it believes are being held hostage abroad or wrongly held by hostile foreign governments.

While much of the focus has been on Russia, where the US has so far tried unsuccessfully to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American Paul Whelan, Venezuela holds the largest contingent of unscrupulous people. The US is suspected of being used as a bargaining chip.

At least four other Americans are still detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in the effort to topple Maduro in 2019.

“To all the families still grieving and separating from their loved ones who are being wrongly detained – know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” Biden said. speak.


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