Administration

Venezuela frees 7 imprisoned Americans in exchange for US releasing 2 of Maduro’s relatives

FILE – This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left to right, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry via AP File)

Venezuela has freed seven Americans who have been imprisoned in the South American country for years in exchange for the United States releasing two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. 

President Biden said in a statement on Saturday that the seven included five members of what is known as the “Citgo Six” — Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Pereira. The five oil executives and Gustavo Cárdenas, another executive who was released in March, were asked to come to Venezuela for a meeting in 2017 but were detained upon arriving and sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzlement. 

“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,” Biden said. 

The other two Americans who were released are Matthew Heath and Florida-resident Osman Khan. Heath is a former U.S. Marine corporal who was arrested in Venezuela in 2020 on what the State Department has called “suspicious” weapons charges, The Associated Press reported

AP reported that the U.S. freed Franqui Flores and Efrain Campo, who are nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores. The two men were arrested in Haiti in 2015 on drug trafficking charges and were convicted the next year. 

Biden said his administration’s priority is to prevent any American from being wrongfully detained or held hostage. 

“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,” he said. 

The announcement comes as the U.S. has so far been unable to arrange the release of two of the most high-profile Americans held captive, WNBA star player Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, in Russia. AP reported that despite the attention on them, Venezuela has been the country with the most Americans suspected of being held as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Tags Alirio Zambrano Biden Brittney Griner Cilia Flores Citgo Six Efrain Campo Franqui Flores Gustavo Cárdenas Haiti hostages released Joe Biden Jorge Toledo Jose Luis Zambrano Jose Pereira Matthew Heath Nicolas Maduro Nicolas Maduro Osman Khan Paul Whelan prisoner swap Russia The Associated Press Tomeu Vadell U.S. Department of State U.S. Marine Corps United States Venezuela Venezuela

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