Venezuela Frees 7 Americans

Biden releases drug convicts in exchange for US detainees
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 1, 2022 4:55 PM CDT
US, Venezuela Swap Detainees
An undated photo posted on Twitter in June 2020 by Venezuela's foreign minister shows, from left, CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell, and Alirio Jose Zambrano in Caracas.   (Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP File)

Seven Americans who were detained in Venezuela are coming home after a prisoner swap in exchange for two imprisoned members of President Nicolas Maduro's family, President Biden announced Saturday. The decision to grant clemency to the two Venezuelans, who are nephews of Maduro's wife, was made by Biden, Bloomberg reports. The men were convicted of conspiring to import cocaine into the US. The freed Americans, who Biden said were "wrongfully detained," include oil executives and a Marine veteran. "Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more," Biden said in a statement, per CNN. He has spoken to the families, a US official said.

Both countries flew their detainees on Saturday to a third country, per the New York Times, which the Biden administration would not name. Maduro aides said that the Americans were freed for humanitarian reasons and that negotiations began in March when US officials went to Caracas. Biden identified the Americans as Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath, and Osman Khan. Heath, the Marine veteran, was taken into custody in September 2020. Khan had been held since January. The others are oil executives who were arrested more than four years ago.

One US official said Biden has made such efforts a priority. "To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained—know that we remain dedicated to securing their release," the president's statement said. Even while celebrating the release Saturday and praising State Department officials who worked toward it, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "We still have more work to do." (More prisoner swap stories.)

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