Caracas (OrinocoTribune.com) — Illegally kidnapped Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab returned home to Venezuela today after the Maduro administration successfully negotiated his release with Washington. In exchange for eight US nationals, Saab was released after being detained for almost three and a half years, in clear violation of his diplomatic immunity.
According to CGTN, Venezuela released a total of 21 prisoners linked to the opposition; eight US citizens were among them. The released prisoners included “eight US nationals and 13 Venezuelans,” said Maria Alejandra Poleo, cited by the Chinese news agency.
Among the freed US citizens were Luke Alexander Denman and Airan Berry, mercenaries who were serving 20-year sentences for a failed attempt to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in 2020 during the infamous Operation Gideon.
Saab’s release is the result of direct bilateral negotiations between the Biden administration and President Nicolás Maduro’s government, with the international mediation of Qatar. Saab was illegally detained during a refueling stopover in Cape Verde in June 2020 on his way to Iran on a diplomatic mission to bypass the US blockade. In October 2021, he was forcibly flown to Florida and then the US judiciary imposed charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
On the morning of Wednesday, December 20, mainstream outlets reported the imminent release of Alex Saab, based on an Associated Press release. The information was officially confirmed at 3:15 in the afternoon when the Venezuelan Minister for Information and Communication Freddy Ñañez released a statement.
An unofficial translation of the statement can be read below:
Communique for the victory of the truth and dignity of Venezuela
The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela joyfully celebrates the release and return to his homeland of our diplomat Alex Saab, who until today was unjustly kidnapped in a US prison.
The people receive him with pride after having suffered three and a half years of illegal detention under cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, violating his human rights and the Vienna Convention that grants him diplomatic immunity.
Alex Saab is a victim of retaliation by the United States government for his exceptional international efforts to protect the social rights of all Venezuelans, in the face of the intensification of unilateral coercive measures.
His freedom is a symbol of victory of the Bolivarian Peace Diplomacy and of the thousands of demonstrations of solidarity expressed from all corners of the world by social movements, intellectuals, artists, and other fighters for justice.
The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela especially recognizes the courage and dignity of his wife, children, and family, who accompanied him at all times in the denunciation and the hope for his release.
Today the link of this injustice is broken forcing us to reaffirm once again the unanimous demand of all of Venezuela for the definitive, immediate, and unconditional end of the criminal blockade that the United States government imposes against the entire Venezuelan people.
Caracas, December 20, 2023
Through a statement published on Wednesday, the White House confirmed the release of the US nationals. “They have been released and are returning home … These individuals have lost too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence,” it said.
The White House added that among those released is a fugitive named Leonard Francis, who fled the US before he could be sentenced for his responsibility in a bribery and corruption case. “He was extradited from Venezuela to face justice for crimes he committed against the United States,” the statement added.
In its typical arrogance, the White House further attempted to give instructions to Venezuela on how to conduct its elections. It still does not recognize the participation of some of the released prisoners (Airan Berry and Luke Denman) in a mercenary incursion, known as Operation Gideon, on May 3, 2020, which aimed to kidnap and kill President Maduro.
At a press conference this Wednesday, spokesperson for the White House Security Council John Kirby said that “sometimes you’ve got to make some difficult decisions” to rescue US citizens imprisoned abroad. This signals that the White House is aware that the exchange deal is a bigger victory for Chavismo than for US imperialism.
Arrival in Venezuela
Alex Saab’s arrival to Venezuela was broadcast live by Venezolana de Televisión and Telesur. He arrived home by jet from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the designated place for the prisoner swap operation.
Upon his arrival, Venezuela’s National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez was seen among the first leaving the aircraft, a few minutes later the Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab went down to embrace his children and his wife Camila Fabri. Venezuelan First Lady Cilia Flores was also among those who welcomed him.
At Miraflores Palace
After his arrival, Saab was taken by motorcade to Miraflores Palace where President Nicolás Maduro was waiting for him alongside some cabinet members.
President Maduro welcomed Alex Saab, recognizing his Palestinian heritage and saying that he resisted 1280 days of physical and psychological torture of abduction. Not a single evidence of all the fake news launched from Miami was presented in these 1280 days and his only crime was to break the US criminal blockade of Venezuela, he added.
“All the food, all the medicines, all the fuel you negotiated arrived to the Venezuelan people, thank you Alex,” added the Venezuelan president.
President Maduro thanked Gerardo Blyde, chief negotiator of Venezuela’s opposition Unitary Platform coalition in its dialogues with the government, and the emir of Qatar, both of whom were part of the negotiating team. In addition, the president praised Alex Saab’s wife Camila Fabri and Saab’s family for the solidarity network created for his liberation, and all the citizens of Venezuela and activists around the world who contributed to the liberation of Alex Saab with the #FreeAlexSaab movement.
The president disclosed that an agreement for the liberation of Alex Saab was reached during the last months of US President Donald Trump’s administration, but the end of his term destroyed the negotiation and the process had to be resumed from scratch once Joe Biden took office.
Alex Saab shared a few words thanking his kids, his wife Camila Fabri, as well as Jorge Rodríguez, Delcy Rodríguez, Cilia Flores, and the powerful Venezuelan people who are the basis of the Bolivarian Revolution.
While far-right journalists and politicians based in Miami and Madrid were bemoaning the liberation of Alex Saab, according to Venezuelan opposition analyst Luis Vicente León, head of the Datanálisis polling firm, the liberation of Alex Saab is a victory for Biden. He credited the release as a result of political negotiations validated by the Venezuelan opposition via the Barbados agreement. For Washington, it fuels the oil and gas negotiations initiated with Venezuela—resources that are desperately needed by the US.
León considers that it is also a victory for President Maduro as it stabilizes the Doha and Barbados agreements, allows the economic recovery resulting from opening the oil and gas sector under the easing of US sanctions, and keeps up the clear path of compliance with the Barbados agreement; all while not giving an inch on US political pressure on issues not explicitly agreed in Barbados.
“For Maduro, Saab’s release is rather a demonstration of his willingness not to abandon his own people,” added the opposition analyst. “He is telling Chavismo that he is willing to do anything, including running out of resources, to defend them. It is not Alex Saab, it is the unity of Chavismo and the security that Maduro will not abandon them since this is vital in a revolution.”
Special for Orinoco Tribune by staff
- orinocotribunehttps://orinocotribune.com/author/orinocotribune/February 29, 2024