US exchanges the nephews of Cilia Flores convicted of drug trafficking for seven Americans detained in Venezuela | International

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The rope between the United States and Venezuela continues to loosen. The governments have agreed to an exchange of prisoners, which becomes the most important agreement reached since the president of the United States, Joe Biden, relaxed his policy on Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela. Five former managers of Citgo, the subsidiary of PDVSA in Houston, arrested in 2017 in Venezuela when they came to a work meeting at the oil company, and Mathew Heat and Osman Khan, arrested in a military operation deactivated by Venezuelan authorities, were released this Saturday to exchange for Franqui Flores and his cousin Efraín Campo Flores, nephews of the first lady Cilia Flores, according to US government officials in a call with journalists.

The same sources indicated that the exchange of prisoners took place in a third country, which they did not reveal, where planes from the United States and Venezuela arrived with the prisoners. There the exchange took place. The negotiations on the US side have been led by the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, and the State Department team. Biden had signed the pardon for the Venezuelan prisoners for weeks, but the negotiations have dragged on. For the president, freeing those convicted of drug trafficking has been a "hard and painful" decision, these sources have said.

Flores and Campo Flores, the nephews of "the first combatant," as Maduro calls her, were arrested in Haiti in a raid by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2015, when they were 31 and 32 years respectively, and they were immediately taken to New York to stand trial. They were sentenced the following year to 18 years in prison in a case that further exposed Chavismo to accusations of their links to drug trafficking at the highest level. They were serving their sentence in a Florida prison.

In a statement, the White House indicated that this Saturday the former managers of Citgo, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, José Luis Zambrano, José Pereira (who does not have US nationality, but resided in the country) as well as Matthew Heath and Osman Khan, detained in the military operation. "These people will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones, where they belong," Biden said.

The managers were summoned in 2017 to a meeting at the headquarters of the company's headquarters in Caracas and once there, they were taken away by masked security agents who entered the offices. For its part, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry confirmed the release of "two young Venezuelans unjustly imprisoned in that country," without revealing their identity, and also noted that they decided to release Americans subject to legal proceedings in the country for humanitarian reasons.

“We welcome the release from Venezuela of six wrongfully detained US citizens and one lawful permanent resident of the United States,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "While we celebrate the release of these US citizens from Venezuela, we still have more work to do," he added.

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This gesture comes after months of crossings and attempts to approach each other between Washington and Caracas, which began on March 5 of this year, just on the anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez, with the first visit by high-ranking US officials in years to Venezuela, where there is not even an American embassy. The Government of Joe Biden had already made an important concession to Maduro, which was to remove Carlos Malpica Flores, another nephew of the first lady, with high positions in the Government, from the list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control and PDVSA and that has been pointed out in several corrupt plots.

These approaches took place in the context of the crisis in the energy market that was unleashed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the veto imposed by the United States on Russian oil. In this context, Venezuela, which until 2019 was a regular supplier of crude oil to the United States, re-entered the scene as a potential supplier, a strategy that would imply a lifting of sanctions, which from the White House have always made Venezuela's return to negotiations with the opposition started a year ago in Mexico.

The United States allowed the American oil company Chevron to negotiate the terms of its future activities with Venezuela, but nothing effective has yet materialized.

Chavismo has also vehemently requested the exchange of these prisoners for another member of Maduro's entourage, Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who faces trial in Miami and this condition has also entered into the struggle with the United States. Until now, the rapprochement between the two countries has allowed these releases of detainees. On the side of the Maduro government, no gestures have yet been finalized, but it was expected that talks between the delegations could resume in October.

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