US President Joe Biden announced the release of seven US citizens imprisoned in Venezuela. The Americans were released in exchange for two grandchildren of Cilia Flores, wife of the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, accused of drug trafficking. “Today, after years of unjust imprisonment in Venezuela, we bring home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, José Luis Zambrano, José Pereira, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan,” Biden said in an official White House statement. The president thanked the US government officials who made the release possible and reiterated his commitment to ensure the release of all other Americans unjustly detained. The turning point came after a high-level US government delegation went to Venezuela in June to discuss this dossier as well.
Maduro’s wife’s grandchildren arrested in 2015
Shortly after the US president’s statements, the Caracas government also announced the release of two Venezuelans detained in the United States. They are two grandchildren of Nicolas Maduro’s wife, according to Infobae. Franqui Flores and her cousin Efraín Campo were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration operation in 2015 and immediately taken to New York for trial. They had been sentenced the following year. Joe Biden approved the prisoner exchange with Caracas a few weeks ago, making the “difficult and painful decision” that the release of the two Venezuelans was essential to ensure the freedom of American detainees. This was reported by a senior US administration executive in a telephone briefing.
Geltzer: “Glad to have brought Americans back unjustly imprisoned”
“We are delighted to be able to bring back to their families seven Americans who have been unjustly imprisoned for too long in Venezuela,” said Internal Security Undersecretary Joshua Geltzer, quoted by Politico. Five of these Americans are former directors of the Citgo oil company, arrested in November 2017. Citgo is a state-owned PDVSA subsidiary and is controlled by Venezuela’s self-appointed president in office, opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Among others, Matthew Heath, a former Tennessee marine arrested in 2020 in Venezuela for alleged gun-related crimes, was also released. Osman Khan, originally from Florida, was arrested in January for illegally entering Colombia.