Venezuela: Proposed Swap of Imprisoned US Citizens for Maduro Associate

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“This (s.s.: the exchange) seems like a good option to us,” summed up Roy Lopez, representative of the “Free Alex Saab” collective, during a press conference.

Pro-government activists in Venezuela proposed yesterday Monday the “exchange” of US citizens imprisoned in the Latin American country for Alex Schaab, a close associate of President Nicolas Maduro, Caracas’ envoy abroad, accused of money laundering from the US, where he remains in prison from October 2021.

“This (s.s.: the exchange) seems like a good option to us,” summed up Roy Lopez, representative of the “Free Alex Saab” collective, during a press conference.

A Colombian naturalized in Venezuela, Mr. Saab was extradited from Cape Verde to the US after his plane made a stopover in the African archipelago in June 2020. Caracas called the arrest illegal, given that Mr. Saab had, as he pointed out, a diplomatic passport.

“Here in Venezuela, there are a number of American prisoners serving sentences, some for attempting to assassinate the president, others for economic crimes they committed against the country, etc. (…) If an exchange can be made, excellent, we will bring back our diplomat”, Mr. Lopez explained.

Two Americans held in Venezuela were released in March, shortly after a high-level White House delegation visited Caracas: Gustavo Cardenas, a former executive of CITGO, a subsidiary of the state oil company PdVSA, who had been convicted of corruption; and Cuban-American Jorge Alberto Fernandez, who was arrested in early 2021 at the border with Colombia and charged with “terrorism”.

Washington is particularly demanding the release of Matthew Heath, a former soldier who was arrested in September 2020, accused of being a “spy” and planning to carry out attacks on oil and electricity facilities.

Venezuela and the US severed diplomatic relations in early 2019 after Washington did not recognize Nicolas Maduro’s re-election to the presidency, which it called a “fraud”, choosing instead to recognize self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido.

Members of the “Free Alex Schaab” collective urged relatives of Americans imprisoned in Venezuela to “put pressure” on Washington. “All options are on the table,” assured Pedro Carvajalino, another of its representatives.

The U.S. is “doing more to free a female basketball player in Russia than more than a dozen American citizens in Venezuela,” he added, referring to Olympic champion and WNBA star Brittney Greiner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for trafficking drugs.

The Venezuelan government and opposition had resumed negotiations in Mexico in August 2021, after failed efforts in 2018 in the Dominican Republic and 2019 in Barbados.

But the talks were frozen, by government decision, two months later, in retaliation for Mr. Saab’s extradition.

RES-EMP

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