Code: 1206191 A

Venezuela frees at least two jailed US citizens: Reports

Move comes as Venezuela signals interest in improving relations with the US amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Venezuela frees at least two jailed US citizens: Reports

The Venezuelan government has freed two jailed United States citizens, according to a lawyer and media reports, in an apparent goodwill gesture following a visit to Caracas by a high-level US delegation.

One of the prisoners freed on Tuesday was Gustavo Cardenas, among six Citgo oil executives arrested in 2017 and convicted on charges of corruption, according to his lawyer Jesus Loreto, and the human rights group Foro Penal.

The other was a Cuban American, identified as Jorge Alberto Fernandez, detained on unrelated charges, the Reuters news agency and the New York Times reported.

The weekend visit by the US delegation focused not only on the fate of detained Americans but on the possibility of easing US oil sanctions on the OPEC member to fill a supply gap if President Joe Biden banned Russian oil imports in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – something he did on Tuesday.

Venezuela is Russia’s closest ally in South America.

There was no immediate word on the whereabouts of the released men though they were expected to be flown to the US without delay.

Washington has sought the release of at least nine men, including those known as the “Citgo 6”, two former Green Berets and a former US Marine.

The freeing of the two could set a more positive tone for talks between the US and Venezuela, which have had hostile relations through successive American administrations.

The US delegation, the highest-ranking to travel to Venezuela in recent years, met the detainees on Sunday in a Venezuelan prison. US hostage envoy Roger Carstens was part of the group, and he was believed to have stayed behind to finalise the release.

Tuesday’s release followed talks with socialist President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday as the Biden administration sought ways to stave off the impact of soaring US gasoline prices spurred by efforts by the West to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Biden ramped up the pressure campaign on Moscow on Tuesday with his announcement of a US ban on Russian oil and other energy imports. The ban could further increase prices at the pump for American consumers, adding to inflationary pressure.

Engagement with Maduro, a longtime US foe, was also aimed at gauging whether Venezuela is prepared to distance itself from Russia.

But the Biden administration faced strong criticism on Capitol Hill for its contact with Maduro, who is under US sanctions for human rights abuses and political repression.

Washington in 2019 had also recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president following Maduro’s 2018 re-election, which Western governments dismissed as a sham.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the White House not to pursue a deal with Venezuela.

Maduro, he said in a statement, “is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his reign of torture and murder”.

Foro Penal, the Venezuelan rights group, also criticised the terms of Cardenas’s release.

Gonzalo Himiob, a lawyer and vice president director of Foro Penal, said in a statement the end of an arbitrary detention should be celebrated but warned of the consequences that can come from an agreement like the one that led to Cardenas’s release.

“The release of any political prisoner, when it arises from an agreement between political actors, and not from respect for the law, confirms that from the beginning the reasons for the detention were neither legal nor valid, but political and, consequently, arbitrary and contrary to human rights,” Himiob said.

Venezuela frees at least two jailed US citizens: Reports

 

Move comes as Venezuela signals interest in improving relations with the US amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Venezuelan government has freed two jailed United States citizens, according to a lawyer and media reports, in an apparent goodwill gesture following a visit to Caracas by a high-level US delegation.

One of the prisoners freed on Tuesday was Gustavo Cardenas, among six Citgo oil executives arrested in 2017 and convicted on charges of corruption, according to his lawyer Jesus Loreto, and the human rights group Foro Penal.

The other was a Cuban American, identified as Jorge Alberto Fernandez, detained on unrelated charges, the Reuters news agency and the New York Times reported.

The weekend visit by the US delegation focused not only on the fate of detained Americans but on the possibility of easing US oil sanctions on the OPEC member to fill a supply gap if President Joe Biden banned Russian oil imports in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – something he did on Tuesday.

Venezuela is Russia’s closest ally in South America.

There was no immediate word on the whereabouts of the released men though they were expected to be flown to the US without delay.

Washington has sought the release of at least nine men, including those known as the “Citgo 6”, two former Green Berets and a former US Marine.

The freeing of the two could set a more positive tone for talks between the US and Venezuela, which have had hostile relations through successive American administrations.

The US delegation, the highest-ranking to travel to Venezuela in recent years, met the detainees on Sunday in a Venezuelan prison. US hostage envoy Roger Carstens was part of the group, and he was believed to have stayed behind to finalise the release.

Tuesday’s release followed talks with socialist President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday as the Biden administration sought ways to stave off the impact of soaring US gasoline prices spurred by efforts by the West to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Biden ramped up the pressure campaign on Moscow on Tuesday with his announcement of a US ban on Russian oil and other energy imports. The ban could further increase prices at the pump for American consumers, adding to inflationary pressure.

Engagement with Maduro, a longtime US foe, was also aimed at gauging whether Venezuela is prepared to distance itself from Russia.

But the Biden administration faced strong criticism on Capitol Hill for its contact with Maduro, who is under US sanctions for human rights abuses and political repression.

Washington in 2019 had also recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president following Maduro’s 2018 re-election, which Western governments dismissed as a sham.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the White House not to pursue a deal with Venezuela.

Maduro, he said in a statement, “is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his reign of torture and murder”.

Foro Penal, the Venezuelan rights group, also criticised the terms of Cardenas’s release.

Gonzalo Himiob, a lawyer and vice president director of Foro Penal, said in a statement the end of an arbitrary detention should be celebrated but warned of the consequences that can come from an agreement like the one that led to Cardenas’s release.

“The release of any political prisoner, when it arises from an agreement between political actors, and not from respect for the law, confirms that from the beginning the reasons for the detention were neither legal nor valid, but political and, consequently, arbitrary and contrary to human rights,” Himiob said.

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