International /

US Exchanges 2 Prisoners For 7 Americans Jailed in Venezuela

At least four other Americans are still being held by the South American nation

Venezuela released six Americans and a Legal Permanent Resident, including five oil executives who were arrested at a meeting at the headquarters of PDVSA.

As part of the prisoner exchange, the United States released two men who had been convicted of drug-related charges. The men are the nephews of the wife of Venezuelan President  Nicholas Maduro.

“Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath, and Osman Khan,” President Joe Biden announced on Oct. 1. “I am grateful for the hard work of dedicated public servants across the U.S. Government who made this possible, and who continue to deliver on my Administration’s unflinching commitment to keep faith with Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained all around the world.”

Heath is a former Marine from Tennessee who was arrested at a roadblock in Venezuela in September of 2020 and charged with what the State Department deemed “specious” weapons charges. In June, Heath attempted suicide in his cell according to a report from The New York Post

Khan was arrested in 2022 for allegedly illegally entering the country through the Colombian border

The oil executives were employees of Citgo who traveled from Texas to Caracas for a meeting at the state-run oil company in the fall of 2017. At the meeting, they were detained by masked security agents. The men were convicted of embezzlement in 2020 and sentenced to eight to 13 years.

One person in the original group of detained executives, Gustavo Cardenas, was released by the Venezuelan government in March. 

“After extraordinary efforts and perseverance across the State Department and wider U.S. government for many months, these wrongfully detained Americans and legal permanent resident are free and will soon be reunited with their loved ones,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, per Fox News. “I am grateful to Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and the rest of our State Department team for their tireless efforts to achieve this outcome.”

Franqui Flores and Efrain Campo, the two nephews of Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores, were arrested in Haiti in 2015. They were charged with drug trafficking for trying to smuggle cocaine into the US and sentenced to 18 years. Biden granted them clemency before they were released. 

“U.S. officials say during months of tough negotiations, it became clear: releasing Flores and Campo was ‘essential’ to getting the Americans home from Venezuela,” reports KRISTV.

Biden said it was a “priority” for his Administration “to prevent Americans from having to endure the unimaginable pain of being held hostage or wrongfully detained.”

He noted the State Department created a new warning indicator – “D” – to categorize regions of the country with a heightened risk of wrongful detention.

“If travelers make the decision to go despite this ‘D’ warning, they need to know that they are incurring massive personal risk and that it may not be feasible for the U.S. Government to secure their release,” Biden said in his statement.

There are at least four Americans still behind bars in Venezuela – two former Green Berets and two men charged with illegally entering the country. 

Alex Saab, a businessman that the Venezuelan government has described as a diplomat, was arrested last year after arriving in Cape Verde. He remains in the custody of the federal government, which has described him as a corrupt regime enabler. He is currently awaiting trial in Miami.

*For corrections please email [email protected]*