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Biden Administration Releases Ally of Venezuela’s Maduro in Prisoner Swap for 10 Jailed Americans

In a significant diplomatic achievement, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday the successful completion of a prisoner swap with Venezuela. 

The exchange involved the release of 10 Americans who had been detained in the South American country, marking a crucial moment in the ongoing efforts to improve relations between the United States and Venezuela.

High-Stakes Diplomacy

President Joe Biden expressed his satisfaction with the outcome, stating, “Today, ten Americans who have been detained in Venezuela have been released and are coming home, including all six wrongfully detained Americans. These individuals have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence. I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over, and that these families are being made whole once more.”

As part of the deal, the White House revealed that Venezuela has granted clemency to one of President Nicolas Maduro’s close allies, Alex Saab, who was arrested for money laundering in 2020 and is awaiting trial. 

In return, the US secured the release of high-profile prisoners, including Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as “Fat Leonard,” a fugitive and mastermind behind a major corruption scheme in the US Navy.

Francis, who had escaped to Venezuela in 2022, was apprehended by Venezuelan authorities. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to offering bribes to Navy officers, leading to the conviction of 34 defendants. 

The prisoner exchange also involved the release of a prominent member of Venezuela’s opposition party charged with treason and the freedom of 20 political prisoners, with the suspension of arrest warrants for other opponents to Maduro.

While the US has not disclosed the identities of all the released prisoners, notable individuals such as Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, Joseph Cristella, and Savoi Wright are confirmed to be among them. 

Hernandez, Kenemore, and Cristella were charged with illegally crossing the border into Venezuela from Colombia in 2022, while details surrounding Wright’s arrest remain unclear.

Among the released Americans are Luke Denman and Airan Berry, former Green Berets accused by Venezuela’s government of participating in a failed mission to overthrow Maduro in May 2020.

The prisoner exchange is the result of years of sustained hostage diplomacy and a US-facilitated process aimed at brokering talks between the Maduro government and the opposition. 

The Biden administration sees this development as a step toward holding democratic elections in 2024 and normalizing diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela.

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Biden Administration’s Strategic Move

In a significant diplomatic achievement, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday the successful completion of a prisoner swap with Venezuela.

To encourage cooperation from Maduro, the Biden administration has rolled back sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, though it emphasizes that no financial restrictions were eased as part of the deal. 

Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens played a crucial role in securing the release of the American detainees, making multiple visits to Venezuela in advocacy efforts.

While the prisoner exchange has been hailed as a diplomatic success, critics argue that it strengthens Maduro and makes Americans less safe globally. 

The administration remains cautiously optimistic about the progress made in Venezuela and hopes to build on this momentum to foster positive diplomatic relations in the future.

This successful negotiation follows a similar exchange in October 2022, where the US swapped two of Maduro’s nephews for seven wrongfully detained Americans, including the Citgo 6—five oil executives who had been imprisoned in Venezuela for nearly five years.
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