Venezuela releases 2 Americans imprisoned after rare trip by US officials –

The fate of the other five Citgo executives arrested in Venezuela was not reported: four of them dual US citizens and the other a legal permanent resident of the United States.

President Biden confirmed late Tuesday that the two Americans had been released.

“Two Americans illegally detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families again tonight,” Biden said. “Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez are taking him home”.

The terms of the release of the two US citizens are not immediately known. This was first reported by the New York Times.

Biden did not mention the terms in his statement. He said he was grateful for the “taking hostage” of the president’s special envoy, Roger Carstens, and for the “relentless efforts” of other diplomats to rescue them and reunite these families.

“Capturing Americans unfairly is always unacceptable,” Biden said. “And even as we celebrate the return of Cardenas and Fernandez, we remember the names and stories of all Americans unfairly detained against their will – in Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran and elsewhere. All over the world.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the two men returned to the United States Wednesday morning with the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens.

“We are deeply grateful to our partners around the world who have joined us in calling for their release,” Blinken said in a statement. He said. “While we welcome this important positive step, we continue to push for the release of a US citizen illegally detained in Venezuela and around the world.”

A group of US officials traveled to Caracas on Saturday to meet with President Nicolas Maduro to discuss the possibility of easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports after the Biden administration passed a ban on imports of Russian oil. The delegation also called for the release of the detained Americans, including Citgo 6 members, as well as two former Green Berets accused of overthrowing Maduro and a former sailor arrested while traveling on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. .

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The long-awaited release of the Americans marks potential warming between the Biden administration and the Maduro government, Russia’s most important ally in South America, and comes at a time when the U.S. government is trying to isolate the Russian president. Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine. .

Six executives from Houston-based Citgo Petroleum, an oil refinery previously controlled by the Maduro government, were invited to a meeting in Venezuela in November 2017. As soon as they arrived in Caracas, masked security guards arrested and arrested. all six men. What the State Department has called “special charges without due process or access to a fair trial.”

They were subsequently charged with money laundering, embezzlement, extortion and involvement in organized crime. They denied the charges and their lawyers pleaded not guilty.

For four years, Citgo 6’s family members have urged the US government to help protect their imprisoned relatives and ensure their release. Last month, a Venezuelan court sentenced six oil executives to long prison terms.

Citgo 6 was interviewed by a US delegation over the weekend, according to a person directly involved in the case, who spoke about the talks on condition of anonymity. The visit was coordinated by the Maduro government. The American diplomat met some prisoners in December.

Speaking on Venezuelan state television on Monday evening, Maduro described his meeting with the US delegation as “respectful” and “very diplomatic”, adding that the two countries “have agreed to work on a forward-looking agenda”.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday declined to comment on whether it is worth using oil to restore relations with Maduro.

“I think it goes a few steps forward,” Psaki said. He said the arrest of the Americans was not intertwined with the debate on the lifting of sanctions.

The US and Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties in 2019 after the US government recognized Juan Guido as the country’s legitimate president and accused Maduro of rigging the elections.

Citgo 6 was placed under house arrest in December 2019, but was sent back to prison two months later, the day President Donald Trump received Guido in the White House. They were again sentenced to house arrest in April 2021, but were arrested again in October after Maduro’s close ally was extradited to the United States, where he was being sought on charges of money laundering.

For years, relatives of jailed Citgo executives have expressed concern over the frail health of at least two men. In 2020, Tomeu Waddell, the wife of one of the executives, told the Washington Post he was shocked when he emerged during a visit in 2018.

“It weighed 220 and weighed 160 pounds. … or looked [like] “A prisoner,” said Dennis Waddell, Tomeu’s wife. “We only want it at home.”

Schmidt reported from Bogota, Colombia. John Wagner contributed to this report in Washington.

Source: Washington Post