Venezuela and US exchange prisoners | Current America | DW

United States, Washington |  Joe Biden at the US-Pacific Island Country Summit

In a rare prisoner swap, the authoritarian Venezuelan government has released Americans imprisoned in Venezuela for years. In return, the US authorities released two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro who had been convicted in the US. The governments in Washington and Caracas announced the exchange in two almost simultaneous statements.

Five of the seven released US citizens were executives of oil company Citgo, the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA. They were arrested in 2017 during a business trip to the South American country and sentenced to long prison terms in a corruption trial in 2020. The other two US citizens were arrested separately.

USA speak of exceptional decision

The US government criticized the trial against the “Citgo 6” as politically motivated and unfair. One of the six Citgo managers originally convicted was released in March after talks between the US and Venezuela.

For years, the United States had been trying to free the remaining five Citgo managers and other Americans, including a Navy veteran. When it became clear that this could be achieved by pardoning two of Maduro’s wife’s nephews, President Joe Biden made the “difficult decision” to grant the wish, a senior US official said. He stressed that such moves would remain a rare exception.

United States, Washington |  Joe Biden at the US-Pacific Island Country Summit

US President Joe Biden spoke of “years of unlawful imprisonment” of his compatriots in Venezuela

After the arrest of his relatives five years ago, Maduro said it was a political action by the United States to attack his wife. The nephews of Venezuela’s First Lady Cilia Flores were each sentenced to 18 years in prison for drug trafficking in the United States in 2017. Franqui Flores and Efraín Campo were arrested in Haiti in 2015 and extradited to the United States for attempting to smuggle large quantities of cocaine into the United States. According to the investigators, they were not particularly skillful.

Maduro government praises itself

The Venezuelan government’s statement on the prisoner exchange said: “We wish to inform our people and the international community that, following a series of discussions with the US government, we have been able to obtain the release of two unlawfully detained young men.” The names of the two Venezuelans released were not mentioned in the statement. In addition, the judiciary decided to release a group of convicted US citizens on humanitarian grounds.

Energy crisis fuels efforts to rapprochement with Venezuela

Relations between the two countries have been tense for years. The US is among some 60 states that refused to recognize Maduro as the legitimately elected president after the disputed 2018 election. Washington has since imposed a series of sanctions on Venezuela. A punitive measure imposed in 2019 bans Venezuela from trading in crude oil in the US market.

Venezuela |  President Nicolas Maduro

President Nicolás Maduro is trying to use the global energy shortage for his purposes

Recently, there had been increased diplomatic efforts behind the scenes with the Latin American country – also because of the pressure on global energy supplies as a result of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Venezuela has the largest crude oil reserves in the world. The US has banned imports of Russian oil over the attack on Ukraine.

In view of the energy crisis, Venezuela’s socialist head of state, Maduro, is trying to bring his country back into play as a global supplier of oil and natural gas. Irrespective of the fact that he is one of Russia’s closest allies in Latin America alongside Cuba and Nicaragua, he would like to boost his country’s ailing oil economy in order to make better use of this source of income, which is enormously important for Venezuela.

qu/fab (dpa, afp, rtr)


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