Venezuela releases 7 jailed Americans; US frees 2 prisoners

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The prisoner swap is a rare gesture of goodwill by President Nicolas Maduro as he seeks to rebuild ties with the US after defeating domestic adversaries.

Venezuela freed seven Americans in exchange for the release of two nephews of the wife of President Nicolas Maduro, who was jailed for years by the United States on drug trafficking charges.

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The swap of Americans on Saturday, including five oil executives for nearly five years, is the largest ever trade in civilians detained by the Biden administration.

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


“Today, after years of wrongful detention in Venezuela, we are bringing home the seven people whom the president quoted by name. “We celebrate that seven families will once again be complete.”

The prisoner swap comes as a rare gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader seeks to rebuild ties with the US after defeating most of his domestic opponents.

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The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other US officials – secret talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices.

Those released include five Houston-based Citgo employees — Tomeu Waddell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were taken to Venezuela in 2017 to attend a meeting at the company’s parent headquarters. The state-run oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were chased away by masked security agents who broke into the Caracas conference room.

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former US Marine Corporal who was arrested in Venezuela in 2020 on a roadblock that the State Department called a “specific” weapons charge, and Usman Khan was arrested in January .

America frees Frankie Flores and his cousin, Efrain Campo, nephew of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro calls his wife.

In 2015, in a sting by the Drug Enforcement Administration, these men were arrested in Haiti and immediately taken to New York to face trial. He was convicted the following year in a highly charged case that drew a close look at US charges of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration.

The Biden administration is under pressure to do more to bring home nearly 60 Americans who believe they have been held hostage overseas or wrongfully detained by hostile foreign governments.

While much of the focus has been on Russia, where the US has so far unsuccessfully attempted to secure the release of WNBA star Brittany Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela has been accused of using the largest contingent of Americans as bargaining chips. puts it in doubt.

At least four other Americans are in custody in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in an effort to oust Maduro in 2019.

“To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who have been wrongfully detained – know that we are dedicated to their release,” Biden said.

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