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Amid cutting Russia off from the rest of the world, senior U.S. officials were in Venezuela over the weekend. Photo: Getty Images

The U.S.’s Venezuela visit bears fruit, as two detained Americans get released

Jorge Fernandez had been detained for a little more than a year, and Gustavo Cárdenas a little more than four. The latter was one of six Citgo executives detain

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On Tuesday, March 8, the White House announced that the Venezuelan government has freed two detained American citizens.

“Tonight — two Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once more. We are bringing Gustavo Cárdenas and Jorge Fernandez home,” Biden said in a statement.

Cárdenas and Fernandez were released following a weekend trip to Venezuela by senior Biden administration officials, the first trip of its kind in more than two decades. 

Fernandez, a Cuban-American tourist, was detained last February near the border of Colombia after he was found in possession of a drone, which is prohibited in Venezuela. He was accused of terrorism. 

Their releases came hours after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

showed interest in improving relations with the U.S., at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns in the U.S. over escalating gas prices. 

“It seemed to me very important to be able, face to face, discuss issues of maximum interest to Venezuela and the world. And I ratify, as I said to the delegation, all our will to advance an agenda of well-being and peace through diplomacy, respect and the highest hope for a better world,” Maduro said in a televised address on Monday, March 7. 

Cárdenas and five other executives of Houston-based Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant, had been detained in the country since November 2017, when they were led away by masked security guards during a meeting in Caracas, the capital. 

The executives were lured to Venezuela to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA.)

They were sentenced on charges originating from a never-executed plan to refinance about $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. They claimed the plan would have been highly detrimental to Citgo, PDVSA’s most valuable foreign asset.

The men were found guilty in 2020 and sentenced to between eight and 14 years. They denied all allegations and the U.S. government has long campaigned for their release, calling them wrongful detainees being held without a fair trial. 

Venezuela’s treatment of the executives varied as relations between Venezuela and the U.S. Sometimes they were held in prison, other times on house arrest. 

Since last year, they have been held in a single cell in Venezuela’s secret police’s underground prison, where the United Nations has documented irregularities and human rights abuses in the case of at least one of the executives. 

“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. My Administration will keep fighting to bring them all home,” Biden said. 

Cárdenas arrived in Katy, Texas early on Wednesday, March 9, and was checked out by two doctors after being released. 

“We are so happy. We did not sleep all night. “I still cannot believe he is here,” his wife, María Elena Cárdenas, told NBC News. 

 

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