Caracas Releases Two US Citizens as Washington Eyes Venezuela as Alternate Energy Source
09:46 GMT 09.03.2022 (Updated: 20:55 GMT 19.10.2022)
© Flickr / Joseph RemedorVenezuelan Flag (Bandera de Venezuela)
© Flickr / Joseph Remedor
In remarks given on Monday on public TV, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a ‘vigorous reactivation’ of discussions with the country’s opposition, describing the meeting as “respectful, cordial, very diplomatic.” This came on the heels of the revelation that a high-level US delegation had flown to Caracas over the weekend.
Venezuela released two jailed US citizens on Tuesday following a visit to Caracas by a high-level American delegation.
Gustavo Cardenas was one of the six oil executives of US-based Citgo Petroleum, owned by Venezuela's state-own oil company PDVSA, arrested in Venezuela in 2017 on corruption and embezzlement charges the US government claimed were fabricated.
A Venezuelan court in November 2020 sentenced the men to prison terms ranging from eight to 13 years.
Jorge Alberto Fernández, a Cuban-American, had been detained on terrorism charges.
"Tonight, two Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once more. We are bringing Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez home," President Joe Biden said in a statement.
No other official details pertaining to the release were offered.
Washington has been seeking the release from what it called “unlawful” Venezuela detention of at least nine men. They include the "Citgo 6," as well as two former Green Berets - Luke Denman and Airan Berry - arrested in 2020 in connection with a failed raid aimed at ousting lawfully-elected Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Also remaining in detention is a veteran US Marine - Matthew Heath - charged with terrorism and arms trafficking. Heath has denied the charges, with the US denying he was ever sent by Washington and accusing Caracas of holding him illegally.
A high-ranking US delegation comprising Juan González, the top White House official on Latin America, the US Ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, and Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, had gone to Venezuela on the weekend, according to Reuters.
The group met with the detainees on Sunday in a Venezuelan prison, with Carstens believed to have stayed behind to finalise the release.
Washington has been seeking the release of at least nine men, including those known as the "Citgo 6," two former Green Berets and a former US Marine.
Venezuela Eyed as Alternate Energy Source
The release of the detainees followed the US delegation’s talks at the Miraflores palace with President Nicolas Maduro and his Vice President, Delcy Rodriguez, according to sources cited by the outlet.
The delegation focused not only on the fate of detained Americans, but also the possibility of easing US oil sanctions on Venezuela – an OPEC member that could become a potential alternate source of energy after President Joe Biden banned Russian oil imports over the Ukraine crisis.
Washington has purportedly been prompted by a desire to stave off the impact of soaring gas prices, further impacted by the sanctions push over the special ops that President Vladimir Putin launched on 24 February aimed at "demilitarising and de-Nazifying" Ukraine.
Started in coordination with Russia's Donbass allies, the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR, LPR), the decision came after the two breakaways, earlier officially recognised by Moscow, requested assistance amid escalating shelling, sniper and sabotage attacks by Kiev forces. Only military assets are being targeted, according to Russian authorities. However, the US and its NATO allies have been pumping Ukraine with lethal aid, while rolling out a sweeping sanctions campaign against the Kremlin.
Analysts suggest the freeing of the two US citizens by Venezuela – one of Russia's closest allies in South America - could set a more positive atmosphere for talks between Washington and Caracas.
The two countries have had no formal diplomatic relations since January 2019, when the US attempted to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Juan Guaido, then head of the nation's legislature, had proclaimed himself as the country’s "interim president" with support from Washington, with the Donald Trump administration recognising his claims at the time, back in January 2019.
After the unsuccessful coup attempt, Washington slapped crushing sanctions on the Latin American nation that boasts the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
However, on Monday, the Venezuelan government announced a resumption of diplomatic efforts with the Venezuelan opposition, with President Nicolas Maduro announcing a ‘vigorous reactivation’ of discussions.
The rekindled engagement with Maduro, which also ostensibly attempted to gauge whether Venezuela is prepared to distance itself from Russia, has triggered strong criticism on Capitol Hill.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned the White House against pursuing a deal with Venezuela.
According to a statement by Menendez, Maduro “is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his reign of torture and murder.”