Venezuela releases imprisoned Americans after talks with the US

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Venezuela releases imprisoned Americans after talks with the US

At least two Americans imprisoned in Venezuela were released on Tuesday, a US official and Venezuelan human rights defenders said, a milestone in the Biden administration’s ties with a longtime adversary who is Russia’s largest in the Western Hemisphere. A staunch ally. But at least eight other US citizens are jailed in Caracas for charges ranging from embezzlement to terrorism.

The release, after a rare visit by a high-level US delegation to Venezuela over the weekend to meet with President Nicolas Maduro, is part of a broader effort to advance the Biden administration’s agenda in autocratic countries that are in talks with President Vladimir V. Relationships can be reconsidered. Putin after the attack on Ukraine.

Talks with the South American oil producer assumed new urgency after President Biden announced on Tuesday that the United States would impose sanctions on Russian oil imports. The move is expected to further tighten the availability of crude in the global market, and could push up gas prices at a time when inflation has climbed to its fastest pace in 40 years.

“This is a step we are taking to inflict more pain on Putin, but it will also pay a price in the United States,” Mr Biden said.

For weeks, US lobbyists and industry executives working in Venezuela have held back-channel discussions about resuming America’s oil trade with Venezuela, which was banned under the Trump administration.

But industry experts warned that Venezuela’s oil supply will do little to quickly dampen US gas prices and inflation. After years of mismanagement and low investment ravaging the country’s energy sector, it may take time for the country’s output to increase.

Prominent members of Congress have also come out against any attempt to thaw ties with Mr Maduro, whose government has been accused by the United Nations of systematic human rights violations.

“Nicolas Maduro is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his torture and murder regime,” Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said in a statement Monday.

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White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news conference that the purpose of US officials’ visit to the capital, Caracas, was to discuss “energy security” and the condition of imprisoned Americans.

Mr Maduro said he welcomed the US delegation to Rashtrapati Bhavan and called the meeting “respectful, cordial, very diplomatic”. He said the talks would continue. He also said that he would resume talks with the country’s opposition.

The Venezuelan government seeks to resume oil sales to the United States in order to take advantage of high oil prices and to replace revenues from trade channels created through the Russian financial system that were fueled by Western aggression against Ukraine. are set to punish. officials and oil businessmen in the country.

He said selling directly to the United States would allow Mr. Maduro to reap the full benefits from the highest oil prices in more than a decade, rather than relying on a network of middlemen to bypass the US embargo on crude at steep discounts. To sell, he said.

Before that embargo, Venezuela exported most of its oil to the United States, whose Gulf refineries were built to process the country’s heavy crude.

In 2017, Venezuelan security forces arrested six executives from the US arm of the state oil company, Citego Petroleum, after the Maduro government called them to meetings in Caracas. The State Department has said that all six detainees are US citizens.

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The officers were charged with financial crimes and sent to prison. His former boss, Nelson Martinez, the head of the state’s oil company, was detained shortly thereafter and died a year later in custody.

The officers’ families and their lawyers have said that the men, known as Citgo 6, are innocent and that they were lured to Caracas to be used by Mr. Maduro as pawns in his negotiations with the United States. Let’s do.

Venezuela’s dealings with the authorities are varied.

As US government announcements either worsen or improve relations with Mr. Maduro, detainees have shifted between prison and detention. Since last year, they have been held in the same cell in the underground prison of Venezuela’s secret police, where the United Nations has documented irregularities and human rights abuses in the case of at least one of them.

Among other Americans held in Venezuela is Matthew Heath, a maritime veteran who was detained in the Falcon, Venezuelan northern state in 2020. The Venezuelan government claims it was spying on critical infrastructure. Mr Heath’s family and the US government said he was innocent and had been detained because of his nationality.

Two other Americans are still in custody, former Special Forces members Airan Berry and Luke Denman, arrested in 2020 after they fled Venezuela by boat as part of a failed plot to overthrow Mr. tried to attack.

The Trump administration cut diplomatic ties with Venezuela in 2019, closed the United States embassy in Caracas and imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil. A year later, the Justice Department indicted Mr. Maduro and more than a dozen other Venezuelan officials on drug trafficking charges, accusing them of facilitating cocaine shipments to the United States.

mariana martínez And isain herrera Contributed reporting in Caracas, Venezuela.

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