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Venezuela gives US oil workers a house arrest with a gesture to Biden

MIAMI (AP) – Six US oil executives jailed in Venezuela on corruption charges more than three years ago were placed under house arrest on Friday for showing goodwill to the Biden administration as it reconsidered its policy toward the troubled South American country.

The partial dismissal of six employees of Citgo in Houston was confirmed to The Associated Press by members of the men’s family.

Tomeu Vadel, José Luis amb Amrano, Alirio amb Amrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas և Jose Pereira were transported by masked security agents when a meeting took place in Caracas in 2017. Thanksgiving. Citgo’s parent, state oil giant PDVSA headquarters.

The so-called Citgo 6 was once placed under house arrest in December 2019, and was jailed again two months later, on the same day that President Donald Trump met with opposition leader Juan Guaydo at the White House.

By releasing the men, Maduro can bet he will get a better hearing from President Biden, who called Trump’s policy of regime change a “sharp failure” that only served to strengthen the socialist leader.

Earlier this week, senior Biden officials were scheduled to meet with a number of federal agencies to consider US options, including easing inherited distorted oil sanctions, taking steps to support Maduro and his opponents’ vague dialogue experience, and people familiar with the plans.

The meeting, which was to be attended by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, followed a series of steps taken by Maduro in recent days to draw Biden’s attention, including long-standing US demands that the World Food Program be allowed to operate during the country’s growing famine.

In recent days, Maduro’s allies have been silently discussing with their opponents the formation of a new electoral council, joint efforts to fight the coronavirus, and meetings with Norwegian diplomats seeking to revive talks to end the country’s endless political crisis.

However, the continued imprisonment of Americans was seen as a major obstacle to any spread.

In an interview with the AP on Friday, Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere, said he wanted to assess Maduro’s seriousness in any negotiation process he wanted to see “concrete steps taken by the regime, not words”.

In recent weeks, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been working behind the scenes to pressure Maduro’s government to release men, all but one of whom are dual citizens of Venezuela and the United States.

“This is a positive step that will help ensure their well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak in Venezuela,” Richardson said in a statement.

Richardson, who has made feedback to Iran, Cuba and North Korea’s “hostile governments” to secure the release of some 40 Americans, has vowed to work tirelessly to bring men back home.

He called for the release of Luke Denman, Iran Berry, two former Green Berets who took part in an unsuccessful raid on neighboring Colombia last year, and Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine who is on irrelevant charges.

Last year, six men were convicted of rape as a result of a trial that was marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to eight to 13 years in prison for an unfulfilled offer that refinanced $ 4 billion in Citgo bonds, offering a 50% stake in the company. At the time, Maduro accused them of “betrayal.” They all said innocence.

He pushed Pope Francis to release the men. Vatican Secretary of State Cataline Pietro Parolin sent a letter to then-US Ambassador to the Vatican Calista Gingrich last fall, citing a letter from the Holy See’s representative in Caracas to the Venezuelan authorities, urging them to sanctify it.

Parolin was scheduled to travel to Venezuela, where he had previously served as ambassador to the Vatican, on Friday to attend the consecration of 19th-century Venezuelan physician José Gregorio Hernandez, known as the “Doctor of the Poor.” But the Vatican No. 2 canceled the trip at the last minute, citing the coronavirus epidemic.

“We would like our beloved Tomeu to be sent to the United States with unconditional freedom, but we are very grateful for the positive step made possible by Governor Richardson and his team, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the State Department, the Vatican and others. “Allies around the world,” said a statement from Tomeu Vadel’s family.

The report was written by Miami-based AP writer Isela Salomon.

Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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