Biden Administration Reaches Deal With Venezuela Over Prisoner Release

Biden Administration Reaches Deal With Venezuela Over Prisoner Release

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The United States frees an ally of Venezuela’s Maduro in exchange for 10 American prisoners.

The Biden administration has reached a deal with Venezuela that resulted in the release of 30 prisoners in Venezuela, including 10 Americans. In exchange, the United States freed one of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro’s closest allies.

The Maduro ally, Colombian businessman Alex Saab, was accused of siphoning off nearly $350 million from Venezuela through the United States in a scheme that involved bribing Venezuelan government officials.

According to the White House, the 10 Americans are on their way home. Six of them, including Joseph Cristella, Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, and Savoi Wright, had been wrongfully detained.

As part of the deal, Venezuela turned over to the United States Leonard Francis, a former military contractor known as “Fat Leonard” who was involved in a bribery and corruption scandal. The White House confirmed that Mr. Francis had been arrested and brought back to the United States.

As part of the deal, the Venezuelan regime agreed to release Roberto Abdul, who was arrested earlier this month for alleged treason due to his involvement in the opposition presidential campaign of María Corina Machado. Venezuela is also freeing 20 Venezuelan political prisoners and suspending three additional Venezuelans’ arrest orders.

In a Dec. 20 press call, a senior Biden administration official stated: “I wanted to note that in addition to the wrongfully detained Americans, the representatives of Nicolás Maduro have also agreed to release 20 Venezuelan prisoners as well as the release of Roberto Abdul from Súmate, and then three individuals that—Venezuelan individuals that had arrest warrants issued for them. Those will—they will be actually released this morning.”

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President Joe Biden said in a statement following the announcement of the deal: “These individuals have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence. I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over, and that these families are being made whole once more.”

“We are ensuring that the Venezuelan regime meets its commitments,” he added.

President Biden highlighted the recent agreement in Venezuela on an electoral roadmap for competitive presidential elections in 2024, calling it a positive step.

The announcement is part of a broader ongoing deal between Caracas and Washington to normalize relations.

Although the releases could be interpreted as Maduro’s efforts to comply with U.S. demands, the return of his close ally marks a victory for Mr. Maduro. Mr. Saab hasn’t yet been convicted, and his return to Venezuela was previously seen as unlikely.

Washington had given the Venezuelan regime until Nov. 30 to make progress on removing public office bans on opposition candidates and start releasing political prisoners and wrongfully detained Americans in order to avoid sanctions.

The prisoner swap talks were mediated by Qatar, which was asked by both sides to help improve relations between the United States and Venezuela, according to Reuters. Qatar’s main negotiator met with Mr. Maduro last week.

“The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela celebrates with joy the liberation and return to his homeland of our diplomat Alex Saab, who until today was unjustly kidnapped in a U.S. jail,” the Venezuelan government said in a statement.

According to the statement, Mr. Saab was the victim of U.S. retaliation for his diplomatic efforts.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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