Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves Venezuela, United States and hostage exchanges.
The Venezuelan government freed seven Americans detained in the country, including five oil executives, in exchange for two family members of vene President Nicolás Maduro jailed in the United States on drug convictions since 2015.
The swap came after months of secret talks. The Biden administration approved the exchange a few weeks ago, according to senior administration officials, but it took time to work through the mechanics, which unfolded Saturday when planes left from the United States and from Venezuela carrying the prisoners to an unnamed third country where the swap took place.
Those who were freed Saturday were Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan. All are U.S. citizens except Pereira, a lawful permanent U.S. resident. Vadell, the Zambrano brothers and Pereira were employees of Houston based Citgo who were attending a meeting in 2017 in Venezuela when they were seized by masked agents who burst into their conference room. Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal, was arrested on what the United States called “specious” weapons charges in 2020. Khan, a Florida man was arrested in January.
The two Venezuelans known as the “narco nephews,” Efraín Campo and Francisco Flores who are the nephews of Venezuela’s first lady, Cilia Flores, were arrested in Haiti in 2015 in a Drug Enforcement Administration drug operation after attempting to smuggle cocaine into the United States. In 2017, they were sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted. A senior administration official said Biden made “the difficult decision” to grant clemency to the two men.
Senior administration officials told reporters those released “seemed stable but obviously they’re happy, they’re overjoyed to be heading home to their loved ones.”
Venezuela released its own statement soon after confirming the news, saying it acted for “humanitarian reasons.” The statement also confirmed that “two young Venezuelans unfairly imprisoned” in the United States were freed as part of talks that started in March of this year between both governments.
The exchange underscored efforts by the Biden administration since the February invasion of Ukraine by Russia to improve the tattered relationship with Venezuela as an alternative source of oil. In March, U.S. and Venezuelan officials discussed the possibility of easing sanctions on oil exports from Venezuela.
Credit: The Washington Post, The New York Times.