Venezuela Frees 7 Imprisoned Americans; US Frees 2 Prisoners | News

The prisoner swap is a rare gesture of goodwill from President Nicolas Maduro, who wants to rebuild ties with the United States after defeating his domestic rival.

Venezuela has released seven Americans in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, who have been jailed by the United States for years on drug smuggling charges.

Saturday’s swap of Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, is the largest ever deal of detained citizens in a Biden administration.

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

“Today, after years of wrongful detention in Venezuela, we will bring home these seven men,” the president named them. “We celebrate that seven families will be whole again.”

The prisoner swap amounted to a rare gesture of goodwill from Maduro, as the socialist leader looks to rebuild ties with the United States after defeating most of his domestic rivals.

The deal came after months of secret diplomacy between Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials — secret talks with a major oil producer turned into secrecy after sanctions on Russia weighed on global energy prices more urgent.

Those freed included five employees of Houston-based Citgo — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela in 2017 for a meeting at the state-run headquarters of the company’s parent company . Oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were dragged away by masked security agents who burst into the Caracas conference room.

Also freed were former U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Matthew Heath, who was arrested at a Venezuelan roadblock in 2020 on what the State Department called “paradoxical” weapons charges, and Osman Khan. Khan was arrested in January.

US frees Frankie Flores and his cousin Evran Campo, nephews of “first combatant” Celia Flores, as Maduro said he ‘s wife.

The men were arrested in a 2015 raid by the Haitian Drug Enforcement Agency and were immediately taken to New York for trial. The following year, they were convicted in a high-profile case that brought a harsh scrutiny of the highest-level drug trafficking charges against the Maduro government in the United States.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to hold the roughly 60 Americans it believes are being held hostage abroad or wrongly detained by hostile foreign governments.

While much of the focus has been on Russia, the U.S. has so far failed to secure the release of WNBA star Britney Greenner and another American, Paul Whelan, but Venezuela has been holding the largest number of suspected bargaining chips. American team.

At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets who were involved in a 2019 attempt to overthrow Maduro.

“To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their wrongfully detained loved ones — know that we remain committed to securing their release,” Biden said.

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