Venezuela Frees 2 Americans, Including Member of 'Citgo 6'

As Biden administration seeks to improve relations with the country
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 9, 2022 12:00 AM CST
Venezuela Has Released 2 American Prisoners
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony marking the start of the judicial year at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 27, 2022.   (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

(Newser) – The Venezuelan government has freed two jailed Americans, including an oil executive imprisoned alongside colleagues for more than four years, as it seeks to improve relations with the Biden administration amid Russia’s war with Ukraine, the White House announced Tuesday night. Gustavo Cardenas was released following a secret weekend visit to Venezuela by senior Biden administration officials, including the top White House official on Latin America and the State Department’s top hostage negotiator. Also freed was Jorge Fernandez, who was arrested last year on what the White House described as “spurious charges," the AP reports. “These men are fathers who lost precious time with their children and everyone they love, and their families have suffered every day of their absence,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

The release came hours after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro signaled an interest in improving relations at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked concerns in the United States over rising gas prices. Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, made a trip to Venezuela in December that did not immediately result in the release of detainees but that senior administration officials credited with establishing trust and laying the groundwork for Tuesday’s outcome. Carstens returned to Venezuela last weekend with other administration officials including Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council director for the Western Hemisphere, and Ambassador James Story, who heads the US government’s Venezuelan Affairs Unit out of neighboring Colombia.

The Biden administration described it as the first Venezuela visit by a White House official since Hugo Chavez led the country in the late 1990s, and a rare opportunity to discuss policy issues with the Maduro government. Senior administration officials, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the government, declined to say how Cardenas and Fernandez were selected for release among nearly 10 American detainees. But they said Carstens pushed hard for the release of all of them. The weekend discussions came a little more than three years after the US broke off relations with Maduro and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Cardenas is a member of the so-called "Citgo 6," the other members of which remain in detention in Venezuela.

(Read more Venezuela stories.)

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