Venezuela Exchanges 7 Imprisoned Americans for Two Maduro’s Relatives

In a rare gesture of goodwill by Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro as he looks to rebuild relations with the US after vanquishing domestic opponents, Venezuela has agreed to a prisoner swap in which it has freed seven Americans in exchange for two relatives of Maduro imprisoned in the US.

Saturday’s swap of the Americans, including five oil execs held for nearly five years, is the largest trade of detained US citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration.

The seven Americans imprisoned in the South American country for years included five members of the “Citgo Six” – Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, and Jose Pereira- as well as Matthew Heath and Osman Khan.

The five oil executives were detained in 2017 after they were asked to come to Venezuela for a meeting and sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzlement. Gustavo Cárdenas, another executive who was arrested with them, was released in March.

The former US Marine corporal Heath was arrested in Venezuela in 2020 on weapons charges the State Department has called “suspicious”, while Khan was arrested in January.

At least four other American citizens – including two former Green Berets involved in an attempt to oust Maduro in 2019 -remain detained in Venezuela.

Washington, on the other hand, has freed Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores’ nephews Franqui Flores and Efrain Campo, who were arrested in Haiti in 2015 on drug trafficking charges in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at US accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration.

Biden, whose administration has been under pressure to bring home the roughly 60 Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained by hostile foreign governments, said his priority is to prevent any American from being wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad.

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