The Maduro regime quietly offered the American government to release American citizens which are imprisoned in Venezuela (including the CITGO 6) in exchange for the release of close financial collaborator Alex Saab, according to a report made by the Associated Press. Saab was arrested in Cape Verde after American courts indicted him under charges of corruption and then deported him to the United States after a long diplomatic and judicial fight.
The article claims that the Maduro government made this offer in September 2020, as a close Chavista ally met with close Trump associate Richard Grenell in Mexico City, according to former congressman David Rivera, who helped organize the meeting. Specifically, the Chavista regime was trying to liberate the oil executives of the Citgo company, the so-called CITGO 6, and some former U.S. green beret officers who were involved in the disastrous 2020 ‘Gedeon Operation’ against the Maduro government.
Although Grenell told AP that he never engaged in this type of conversation, the reporter claims that sources close to the Venezuelan government have confirmed the exchanges and that AP had access to text messages that showed both parties had been talking about potential hostage negotiation.
The Maduro regime imprisoned five American citizens and one permanent resident back in 2017 after they went to Caracas to attend a meeting called by the Venezuelan government. The six hostages were later convicted by a Venezuelan court in 2020, with the sentences ranging from 8-13 years. The group was later released into house arrest earlier this year but were quickly imprisoned again a few weeks ago after Saab was finally deported to the United States.
According to Rivera, the meeting was also coordinated by Raul Gorrín, a businessman who was also indicted by the United States under charges of corruption. The meeting blew up quite quickly, according to Rivera, as the Americans said that the only way a prisoner swap could be contemplated if it is was followed by an exit plan to Maduro.
Alex Saab was also too valuable a target for agreeing to a prisoner swap, with the Colombian being one of the top architects of the Chavista financial structure. According to Elliot Abrams, Trump’s special envoy for Venezuela, there was no way the United States government would ever consider a prisoner swap like that, saying to AP that “the move to detain and try Saab was an all-of-government interagency effort. These freelancers represented no one but themselves.”
The alleged approaches by the Chavista government showcase the importance of Alex Saab for the Caracas government, a fact that has been detailed by extensive journalistic reporting and that has been shown by the Venezuelan government itself, which launched a campaign to cast Saab as a diplomatic envoy and a political prisoner in order to (unsuccessfully) try to avoid his extradition to the United States, even using the extradition of Saab as an excuse to leave the fledgling negotiations with the opposition in Mexico.
Biden under pressure
The revelations not only reveal how the Maduro government was pulling all the stops to try and avoid Saab’s imprisonment in the United States, but it would also serve as a reminder of the failure of the American government, now led by President Biden, to regain the liberty of the Citgo 6. The family of the imprisoned Americans has pressured the administration over the case, accusing it of not doing enough to recover the freedom of their loved ones.
The family issued an open letter accusing the President and National Security Advisor of not meeting with them to discuss the current efforts to liberate their family. In the letter, the family members also asked Biden to show that the administration’s promises to return the Citgo 6 are “not empty”, saying to the president that “it is now time to act”.