Venezuela releases two Americans after Maduro holds talks with US officials
Photo: JORGE ARREAZA/TWITTER / Courtesy
A former executive of Citgo, the US subsidiary of Venezuela's state oil company, and a Cuban-American tourist, convicted of corruption and terrorism respectively, were released in Venezuela on Tuesday.
The release of Gustavo Cárdenas was confirmed by the AFP news agency citing his lawyer. The man is part of the "Citgo 6", a group of six US citizens detained in Venezuela since 2017.
The second released, Jorge Alberto Fernández, had been arrested in 2021 when he entered the South American country as a tourist with a drone.
The news comes a few days after a high-level United States delegation met with President Nicolás Maduro for the first time in Caracas since both countries broke relations in 2019.
According to the White Houseat the meeting "energy issues" were discussed in the context of the invasion of Ukraine. For his part, Maduro described the meeting as "respectful, cordial and very diplomatic."
The news of the meeting caused surprise and discomfort among the Venezuelan opposition, despite the fact that the US emissaries also met with Juan Guaidó, whom the United States recognizes as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
Venezuela's treatment of detained Citgo executives has varied as US-Venezuelan relations have heated and cooled. Sometimes the detainees were in prison, other times under house arrest.
In 2020 they were held in an individual cell in the underground prison of the Venezuelan secret police, where the United Nations has documented irregularities and human rights abuses in the case of at least one of them.
But in May 2021 they were released from prison and sent to serve house arrest, a decision that the Biden administration welcomed.
Alternatives to Russian oil
According to experts consulted by The New York Times, which leaked information about the meeting and its particular context last weekend, Washington is looking for alternatives to Russian oil.
This Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced the total and immediate ban on imports of oil, natural gas and coal from Russia as a sanction for Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Since April 2019, the US has not allowed Venezuela to trade its crude oil on the US market, a trade that represented 96% of the South American country's income.
But when sanctions began to be applied against Russian oil and gas exports, several influential figures affiliated with the two main US political parties pointed to Venezuela as a potential substitute to fill the shortages generated by the sanctions.
Venezuela produces some 800,000 barrels of oil a day, just a fraction of the 3 million it produced a day for years.
400,000 barrels more
This Tuesday the head of the Venezuelan Oil Chamber, Reinaldo Quintero, told the BBC that his country could increase its oil production by 400,000 barrels per day to help replace Russian oil.
Quintero assured that the South American country has the infrastructure to raise its production levels from the current 800,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million.
“That will allow us to meet some of the needs [en] the North American market," he said.
Quintero assured that he does not expect the sanctions, imposed by former President Donald Trump, to be lifted, but that the Biden administration will probably issue licenses that allow foreign companies to operate in Venezuela, thus exempting them from sanctions.
This, he said, would also allow much-needed foreign investment in Venezuela's cash-hungry oil industry and alleviate a shortage of skilled workers.
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