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Venezuela frees 2 Americans following talks with US officials

Two Americans arrested in Venezuela for corruption and espionage have been released by Nicholas Maduro’s government following the country’s first talks with U.S. officials since 2019.

Washington severed diplomatic ties with Maduro’s regime three years ago, but sent a High-level delegation To Caracas on Saturday, when the Biden administration is looking for an alternative energy supply Imposition of sanctions On Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting seemed to mark a significant policy change for the U.S., which was Venezuela’s biggest buyer of oil until the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Caracas in 2019, closed its embassy and accused his generation of stealing presidential elections the previous year.

Washington has confirmed that both sides have discussed energy security as well as the release of American prisoners. Maduro, who usually practices against Washington, Described the conversations As “respectful, cordial, very diplomatic.”

Gustavo Cardenas, an oil director who worked for Citgo Petroleum Corp., a U.S.-based oil company owned by Venezuela, and Jorge Alberto Fernandez, a Cuban-American arrested more than a year ago and charged with espionage, were released Tuesday.

“Tonight – two Americans arrested illegally in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once again,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement confirming the two had been released.

“Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable,” he added.

Cardans was Stop with five of his colleagues During a meeting at the headquarters of Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), Citgo’s parent company, in Caracas in late 2017. They became known as Citgo 6.

Prosecutors in Venezuela have accused them of carrying out a corrupt plan to refinance up to $ 4 billion of Citgo bonds using a stake in the company as collateral. Prosecutors said the plan was very detrimental to Citgo, PDVSA’s most valuable foreign asset.

The men were Found guilty In 2020 and sentenced to 8 to 14 years. They denied all allegations and the U.S. government worked long to release them.

Venezuelan government officials declined to comment. Citgo did not respond.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US and EU sanctions on Moscow have led Western countries around the world to seek alternative energy sources. The U.S. banned imports of Russian oil and gas on Tuesday.

Washington may also see the Ukrainian conflict as an opportunity to coax its fire out of Moscow’s embrace in exchange for easing Venezuela’s oil sanctions.

Republican hawks, especially those close to the exile community in Venezuela in the U.S., have criticized Biden for turning to Maduro.

“Joe Biden is using #Russia as an excuse to do the deal they always wanted to do anyway with #MaduroRegime,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted this weekend. “Instead of producing more American oil, he wants to replace the oil we buy from one murderous dictator with oil from another murderous dictator.”

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