Caracas, October 1, 2022 (OrinocoTribune.com)—On Saturday, October 1, the US government confirmed through a statement the release of seven US citizens, four of whom are naturalized US citizens and one who is a US resident. Among the released prisoners are five of the “CITGO Six.” In a similar manner, the Venezuelan government reported in an official statement about the release by US authorities of “two young Venezuelans who had been unjustly detained,” without providing their names.
The seven freed US nationals, sentenced by the Venezuelan justice system for committing corruption and/or terrorist crimes, are now on their way to the US and are in good health, according to White House officials who provided more detail on the issue in a press conference. It was also reported that US President Joe Biden “spoke to the families of those detained in the CITGO case and shared the good news.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also posted a message on his Twitter account on the prisoner exchange, with the following text, that repeats the same “held hostage and wrongfully detained” theme, as if US citizens are not capable of committing crimes: “We welcome the long overdue release and return of seven US nationals, wrongfully detained in Venezuela. We will never stop working until all US nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world are home,” he wrote.
We welcome the long overdue release and return of seven U.S. nationals, wrongfully detained in Venezuela. We will never stop working until all U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world are home.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) October 1, 2022
Among those seven prisoners are five employees of Venezuelan state-owned CITGO Corporation, currently under illegal seizure by the US government. They are Tomeu Vadell, José Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, and Jose Pereira, all Venezuelan citizens and former CITGO executives charged and sentenced in 2017 for embezzlement, together with Gustavo Cárdenas, who was released in March.
Venezuelan authorities also released Matthew Heath, a former US marine with connections with US mercenary firms. He was arrested for taking photos near Venezuelan oil refineries while carrying C4 explosives, a satellite phone, and several thousands of US dollars in cash.
The last prisoner released is a Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January 2022. His name was not reported previously by US or Venezuelan authorities. His case has been barely covered by Western media or Venezuelan media, except a report by Miami-based El Nuevo Herald claiming that he was a victim of extortion by Venezuelan National Guard agents who had captured him while he was illegally crossing the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
Two young Venezuelans
On the Venezuelan side of the swap, details are less clear. The Venezuelan government confirmed in a statement the release of two young Venezuelans detained in the US since 2015.
Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Faría posted a message on his Twitter account stating that the release of the two Venezuelans was carried out after a series of conversations held since March with representatives of the US government.
Gracias a la serie de conversaciones realizadas desde el pasado 5 de marzo, con representantes del Gobierno de EE.UU, logramos, desde el Gobierno Bolivariano liderado por el Pdte. @NicolasMaduro, la liberación de dos jóvenes venezolanos injustamente apresados en ese país. pic.twitter.com/zde13N9EvD
— Carlos Faria (@Fariacrt) October 1, 2022
An unofficial translation of the statement is provided below:
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela wishes to inform our people and the international community that, as a result of various conversations held since March 5 with representatives of the government of the United States, the release of two young Venezuelans unjustly imprisoned in that country was achieved.
We also want to inform you that the Venezuelan justice system has decided to release, for humanitarian reasons, of a group of US citizens subjected to court cases in our country.
The Bolivarian government of Venezuela welcomes the result of these talks and hopes for the preservation of peace and harmony with all the nations of our region and the world.
According to Associated Press, the two unnamed Venezuelans are two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores, held by the US since 2015 on drug trafficking charges.
According to AP, Biden granted clemency for Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo, nephews of Cilia Flores, President Maduro’s wife. The men were arrested in Haiti on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation in 2015 and convicted the following year in New York in a highly charged case. Venezuelan authorities have not yet released the names of the prisoners.
SCOOP: Venezuela has freed seven jailed Americans imprisoned in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro's wife held for years by the U.S. on drug smuggling convictions. W/ @etuckerAP https://t.co/EMrhCgrKQY
— Joshua Goodman (@APjoshgoodman) October 1, 2022
US Midterm elections
According to Washington Post, the prisoner swap, the largest arranged by the Biden administration to date, came after months of “backchannel” talks. The US president approved the exchange a few weeks ago, according to senior officials, but it took time to work through the procedures. It finally reached its climax on Saturday when planes left from the United States and from Venezuela, carrying the prisoners to the Caribbean island country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines where the swap took place.
The exchange underscored efforts by the Biden administration since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine in late February, to improve the tattered relationship with Venezuela as an alternative source of oil. In March, US and Venezuelan officials discussed the possibility of easing sanctions on oil exports from Venezuela, reported Washington Post. However, the Biden administration has not yet done anything positive on that issue.
Less than six weeks ahead of US midterm elections, the Biden administration is constrained in its engagement with Maduro, especially in the battleground state of Florida, where right-wing Latino voters whose families fled Cuba and Venezuela hold major sway. But this move surely ponders the positive impact that the release of these Venezuelans will have in the Venezuelan-American community in the south of the US, especially taking into consideration that the Trump administration made a lot of noise for the liberation of the CITGO Six without achieving anything.
Remaining prisoners (Alex Saab)
According to AP, at least four more US citizens remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets—Luke Denman and Airan Berry—involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, Operation Gideon, and two other men—Eyvin Hernández and Jerrel Kenemore—who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia. However, some sources claim that a total of 60 US citizens are serving sentences in Venezuelan prisons.
AP also states that in exchange for freeing the nephews and Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, Maduro was willing to release the remaining four US citizens, according to an “undisclosed” official source. The AP report stressed that “in the end, Saab—Venezuela considers him a diplomat and US prosecutors a corrupt regime enabler—was never seriously considered [by the US for an exchange],” according to the same “undisclosed” source, who insisted on anonymity.
Saab is a Venezuelan diplomat who served as special diplomatic envoy to Iran and Russia with the task of procuring food, medicine and fuel for Venezuela between 2019 and 2020, the toughest period suffered by Venezuela due to the illegal US sanctions. He was kidnapped in Cape Verde on his way to Iran where he was to be on a mission to secure alternatives to bypass the illegal US blockade; his diplomatic credentials and immunity were not considered at all, and the Interpol Red Notice used as the excuse for his capture was not even issued at the time of his irregular detention.
The #FreeAlexSaab local and international committees have worked very hard in recent month for adding Alex Saab to prisoner exchange negotiations with the US. That campaign has gained more traction after the arrest of a US fugitive, Leonard Glenn Francis, also knows as Fat Leonard, who escaped house arrest in the US after being sentenced for a massive corruption scandal in the US Navy, and according to some Venezuelan sources he has requested political asylum in Venezuela.
Saab is currently being held in a US federal prison in Florida infamous for mistreatment of inmates, awaiting for the judiciary to decide on his diplomatic immunity. All of the charges that he was accused of were dropped before the illegal extradition, and the only charge he is accused of currently is conspiracy to commit money laundering. A Swiss prosecutor also dropped several investigations against him during his captivity in Cape Verde due to lack of evidence.
For many the controversial case of Alex Saab is another evidence of the gangsterish nature of the United States and its European allies, that bully, persecute, and sometimes “eliminate” anyone daring to go against the way it runs its world dictatorship.
Orinoco Tribune special by staff
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