WASHINGTON -- WASHINGTON -- Two Americans were released by the government in Venezuela. The release came as the administration sought to improve relations between the Biden administration and the Biden administration, amid the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Gustavo Cardenas was freed following a secret weekend visit to Venezuela made by senior Biden administration officials. This was the White House's first trip to Venezuela in over two decades. Jorge Fernandez was also released after being arrested last year for what the White House called "spurious allegations."
In a statement, President Joe Biden stated that "these men are fathers who have lost precious time with children and all they love, and their family has suffered every day of this absence."
This release was made hours after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro indicated an interest in improving relations in a time when Russia's invasion in Ukraine has raised concerns about the United States regarding rising gasoline prices. He appeared to say that he would accept U.S. demands that he reopen negotiations with his adversaries as a first step towards any relief from U.S. sanction that has been punishing the OPEC country for many years.
Cardenas, along with five other Citgo executives, Houston-based, were held in Venezuela since 2017, when they were taken away by masked security guards while attending a meeting in Caracas. They were lured to Venezuela by the state-run oil company PDVSA to attend a meeting.
The men were sentenced to prison for charges related to a never executed plan to refinance $4 billion in Citgo bonds, offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Prosecutors claimed that the men were manipulating to gain from the deal.
The U.S. government demanded their release and called them wrongful detainees without fair trial.
Other than the Citgo 6 members, several other Americans are still held in Venezuela. Two former Green Berets Luke Denmanand Airan Berry were detained for their involvement with a confused plot to overthrow Maduro. Former Marine Matthew Heath was also taken into custody on weapons charges.
Fernandez was taken into custody near Colombia's border in February 2021 after being found with a drone. This drone is not allowed in Venezuela. Fernandez was charged with terrorism.
Gonzalo Himiob is a lawyer and vice-president director of Foro Penal Venezuelan human rights group. He said that it was important to celebrate the end of arbitrary detention, but also warned about the possible consequences of an agreement such as the one that led Cardenas' freedom.
Himiob stated that any release of a political prisoner is only possible when there has been an agreement between political actors and not out of respect for the law. This confirms that the reasons for the detention were political and therefore arbitrary and in violation to human rights.
Three years ago, the U.S. cut off relations with Maduro. also recognized Juan Guaido, Venezuela's legitimate leader, in weekend talks.
After months of backchannel efforts from intermediaries (American lobbyists, Norwegian diplomats, and international oil executives), the talks were arranged. They pushed for Biden's re-evaluation of the unsuccessful campaign to overthrow Maduro he inherited in the Trump administration.
The impetus to reach out to Maduro, who was sanctioned but is being indicted in New York for drug trafficking charges, became more urgent after Russia's invasion and subsequent U.S. sanctions . The Ukraine crisis will cause a reshuffle in global alliances, and increase inflation at already at a four decade high.
Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. would implement a ban on Russian oil and natural gas imports. As punishment for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion, Biden announced a U.S. ban on Russian oil imports and natural gas imports.
Venezuela is Putin's top ally and top oil exporter in Latin America. The Russian oil embargo could cause a fallout at the pumps if Venezuela reenters the U.S. energy market. Top Republican and Democratic senators quickly condemned the Caracas talks.
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) said that Biden's efforts against Putin should not be undermined by supporting Maduro. Maduro's government is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court. He could have committed crimes against humanity against protesters in 2017.