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Prisoner swap brings Biden closer to Maduro regime in Venezuela

Canje de prisioneros acerca a Biden con el régimen de Maduro en Venezuela

President Joe Biden released two nephews of the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro convicted of drug trafficking in exchange for the release of seven Americans detained in Venezuela, a country with which he has resumed contact despite keeping it under sanctions.

Biden decided to release Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and his cousin Efraín Antonio Campos Flores, nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife, a US official who requested anonymity told reporters.

Biden took "a difficult decision, a painful decision to offer something that Venezuelans have actively sought"accurate.

The release of the so-called "narco-nephews"sentenced in New York to 18 years in prison in 2017 for trying to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States, has been "essential to ensure the release" of seven Americans, the official added.

Shortly before, the two governments officially announced the exchange almost simultaneously, although Caracas refrained from giving names.

"Today, after years of being unfairly detained in Venezuela, we bring home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, José Luis Zambrano, José Pereira, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan."Biden said in a statement.

the seven are "currently on their way home and to their families in the United States"a senior White House official told a news conference.

In Caracas, the government of Maduro, whom Washington does not recognize as president, stated that "The release of two young Venezuelans unjustly imprisoned has been achieved" in the United States as "product of different conversations carried out since last March 5".

And confirmed the release of a "group of americans" detained in Venezuela "for humanitarian reasons".

The first five detainees cited by the US president are former directors of the Citgo refinery, -four Americans born in Venezuela and a Venezuelan permanent resident in the United States- accused of corruption in the Caribbean country and sentenced to between eight and 13 years in prison.

A sixth Citgo chief, Gustavo Cárdenas, who was vice president in charge of strategic relations for this US subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, was released in March. That month, another American, Jorge Alberto Fernández, was released after an unexpected visit by high-level US envoys to Caracas.

Matthew Heath is a former marine arrested two years ago and prosecuted for "terrorism". Osman Khan is one of three Americans detained this year on the border with Colombia whose identities had not been revealed by government sources.

The state of health of the seven released is "steady" and Biden has spoken with each of them, the US official said.

The exchange took place this Saturday "in a country between Venezuela and the United States" where a plane landed with the two Venezuelan prisoners and another from Venezuela with the seven Americans, he added.

Subsequently "passengers departed on different planes than they arrived on"accurate.

In the statement, Biden insisted on his "unwavering commitment" with the americans "hostages and unjustly detained around the world".

Venezuela has released a total of nine Americans. At least four others remain in detention, former soldiers Luke Denman and Airan Berry, sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly participating in a plan to overthrow Maduro in 2020, and two other citizens who entered through the border with Colombia.

Since his arrest in 2017, the situation of US prisoners has suffered from the ups and downs of relations between Caracas and Washington.

Caracas accuses the United States of wanting to attack basic facilities and overthrow Nicolás Maduro, whom Washington describes as an illegitimate president for considering his re-election in 2018 fraudulent. It considers opposition leader Juan Guaidó interim president.

The United States has imposed a series of sanctions on Venezuela, including an embargo on US imports of Venezuelan oil.

Before this decision made in 2019, during the term of former Republican President Donald Trump, the United States was the main buyer of Venezuelan crude. Venezuela’s oil exports account for 90% of its income.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions against Moscow have heightened tensions over oil prices and the United States has reached out to oil producing countries in a bid to reduce global dependence on Russian crude.

And Venezuela is a great producer, but also an ally of Moscow.

According to several analysts, the prices of black gold may make Washington feel tempted to ease the sanctions on Caracas.

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