Venezuela releases Americans in exchange for nephews of President Nicholas Maduro’s wife

By Editor Foreign Affairs

Washington: The Biden administration called it a day on Saturday after securing the release of American nationals from the custody of Venezuela.

As many as seven American prisoners finally saw the blue skies after years of imprisonment as Venezuela set them free in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years by the United States on drug smuggling convictions.

President Joe Biden announced the release of Americans himself on Saturday.

” Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath, and Osman Khan. These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong. I am grateful for the hard work of dedicated public servants across the U.S. Government who made this possible, and who continue to deliver on my Administration’s unflinching commitment to keep faith with Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained all around the world,” a statement issued from The White House quoted him as saying.

“Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more. To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained – know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” it added.

The exchange of prisoners is also likely to set the mood for the two countries to reset ties after years of a fragile relationship.

The US officials confirmed on Saturday that Venezuela has freed seven Americans imprisoned in the South American country in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years by the United States on drug smuggling convictions.

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The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, is the largest trade of detained citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration.

“We are relieved and gratified to be welcoming back to their families today seven Americans who had been wrongfully detained for too long in Venezuela,” Washington Post quoted Joshua Geltzer, the deputy homeland security adviser as saying.

The rare exchange of prisoners amounts to a rare gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. Officials said backdoor diplomacy worked wonderfully finally paving the way for the smooth exchange of prisoners. The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices, according to Post.

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

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department has called “specious” weapons charges, and Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.

The United States freed Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo nephews of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro has called his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration 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 hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration.

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