Saturday Venezuela freed seven U.S. citizens, including five oil executives, in exchange for two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro who’d been in prison since 2015 on drug convictions.
The swap, so far the largest arranged by President Biden’s administration, came after months of secret talks. The president finally approved the exchange several few weeks ago, reported Reuters, but it took time to work out the logistics. As part of the swap, which took place at an airport in an unspecified third country, Biden granted clemency to the two Venezuelans, dubbed the “narco nephews.”
Does Oil Come Into Play In This Softening Of Hostility?
The prisoner swap appears to be part of U.S. efforts to mend fences with oil-rich Venezuela and possibly secure an alternative source of petroleum since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” The Washington Post noted that in March, U.S. and Venezuelan officials discussed the possibility of easing sanctions on oil exports from Venezuela.
Regarding Saturday’s exchange, Biden said that “wrongfully detained” Americans would soon be reunited with their relatives. “Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more. To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained – know that we remain dedicated to securing their release.”
Mounting Prisoner Swap Pressure Over Brittney Griner
The exchange comes at a time when the Biden Administration is under mounting pressure to secure freedom for dozens of Americans held abroad. For the past several months, much of the administration’s public focus has been on Russia’s detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.
Both Russia’s foreign ministry and U.S. officials have confirmed that they are engaged in potential prisoner exchange talks involving Griner and Whelan for convicted Russian gun-runner Viktor Bout though very little has been reported in the press regarding how they’re advancing.
According to the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, there are actually 64 publicly known cases of Americans being held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world.