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Venezuela Releases Two American Detainees

One of the detainees is one of six oil executives who were arrested in the country in 2017

Two Americans that were being held by the Venezuelan government have been released following talks with the United States government.

The Biden administration announced Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez had been back to the U.S. on March 8.

In his statement, President Joe Biden expressed his gratitude to Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens. 

“Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable. And even as we celebrate the return of Cardenas and Fernandez, we also remember the names and the stories of every American who is being unjustly held against their will—in Venezuela, in Russia, in Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, and elsewhere around the world,” Biden said. “My Administration will keep fighting to bring them all home.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the men had arrived in the country with Carstens in a statement on March 9.

We express our deepest appreciation to our many partners around the world who joined us in calling for their release. While we welcome this important positive step we continue to press for the release of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals in Venezuela and around the world,” Blinken said, echoing Biden’s sentiments.

Cardenas has been detained by Venezuela since 2017. He was one of five executives from Citgo who was detained by security agents during a meeting in Caracas. The men were in Venezuela to attend a meeting with PDVSA, the state-run oil company that owns Citgo.

According to 6ABC, “they were sentenced on charges stemming from a never executed plan to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Prosecutors accused the men of maneuvering to benefit from the proposed deal.”

Five of the executives, including Cardrensa, were sentenced to nearly 9 years in prison. Jose Pereira, the former Citgo president, was sentenced to 13 years and seven months for embezzlement and given a $2 million fine.

Cardenas was released during the White House’s first trip to Venezuela in over 20 years — a secret weekend trip made by a senior official from the Biden administration, per AP News.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on March 7 that the U.S. and Venezuela discussed  “energy security” during the trip.

AFP reports Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the meeting “respectful, cordial and diplomatic.”

Venezuela is a major exporter of oil to Russia and is considered the nation’s top ally in Latin America. 

Fernandez was arrested in 2021 near the border of Venezuela and Colombia. He had a drone in his possession at the time, an item subject to restricted use in the country. The government detained Fernandez on terrorism charges. 

In addition to the remaining five Citgo executives, two green Berets, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Matthew Heath, are also currently being detained in Venezuela. 

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