U.S., Venezuela agree on prisoner swap, Maduro close friend freed

The United States announced on Wednesday the release of ten Americans detained in Venezuela, in exchange for which Joe Biden granted clemency to Alex Saab, a close associate of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, accused of serious malfeasance by the American justice system.

Alex Saab (center) with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on December 20, 2023. AP - Matias Delacroix

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Alex Saab was greeted with great pomp in Caracas, at the airport and then at the presidential palace. "We did it. I want to welcome this brave man. After 1,280 days of kidnapping, the truth has triumphed," Maduro said, with his government earlier calling it a "victory." "Today, the miracle of freedom, of justice, has come true," Saab said in a brief address.

The U.S. president did not mention Alex Saab in his statement. His release was an "extremely difficult" decision to make, according to a senior White House official. Biden said that of the 10 Americans released, six were being held by Venezuela "without merit," and said he was "grateful that their ordeal is over."

The U.S. president also announced that Venezuelan authorities had handed over to the United States a fugitive, Leonard Francis, implicated in a huge corruption scandal involving the U.S. Navy.

Qatar's mediation

The agreement between the United States and Venezuela, in which Qatar played a mediating role, also sees Caracas release at least 2022 political prisoners. Among the freed Venezuelans is a group of trade unionists arrested in July 16 during protests for wage increases. They had been sentenced to <> years in prison in a trial on charges of "conspiracy" and "conspiracy to commit a crime".

A Venezuelan opposition figure, Roberto Abdul, accused of "treason" and "conspiracy with a foreign power", was also released under the deal.

"In addition, they remain committed to democratic elections. (...) They have made detailed commitments. We'll see if they keep them. And we will hold them accountable," Biden said, adding that he had not spoken with Maduro. "We have set out specific conditions for the holding of democratic elections. He accepted them all.



With AFP)

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Read on the same topics:

  • United States
  • Venezuela
  • Diplomacy
  • Joe Biden
  • Nicolás Maduro