Biden admin releases 2 Maduro ‘narco nephews’ in exchange for 7 imprisoned Americans in Venezuela

Seven Americans who have been languishing for years in a Venezuelan jail are now free, thanks to a prisoner exchange that saw the United States release two of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s relatives who were being held in America on convictions of drug trafficking.

“Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath, and Osman Khan,” President Joe Biden said Saturday in a written statement. “These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong.”

Among the seven released prisoners are five oil execs from Houston-based Citgo who, five years ago, were whisked away from a meeting in the authoritarian nation at the headquarters of government-owned oil and natural gas company, PDVSA, and convicted of embezzlement.

Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal who was jailed in Venezuela on weapons charges, and Khan, who was locked up this year, were also released.

In exchange, two nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were released from prison and sent home, but not before Biden granted them amnesty.

Known as the “narco nephews,” the duo were picked up in Haiti during a drug sting. According to Fox News, they were charged with trying to smuggle cocaine into the States and were convicted in New York in 2017.

It is the “largest trade of detained citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration,” NBC News reports.

“I am grateful for the hard work of dedicated public servants across the U.S. Government who made this possible, and who continue to deliver on my Administration’s unflinching commitment to keep faith with Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained all around the world,” Biden’s statement reads.

“Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more,” the President continued. “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.”

Any time an imprisoned American is returned to U.S. soil, it is a “win,” regardless of who brings them home, but for the Biden administration — which has thus far failed to free woke WNBA player Brittney Griner from Russia despite the glaring spotlight it has shined on her plight — it’s a much-needed boost as midterm elections draw near.

In his statement, Biden stressed that bringing hostages home is a “priority” for his administration.

“It is also a priority of my Administration to prevent Americans from having to endure the unimaginable pain of being held hostage or wrongfully detained,” he said. “This summer, I signed an executive order that will impose new costs, including sanctions and visa bans, against the perpetrators of such acts.”

Of course, he did warn that the government may not always be there to secure the release of those who don’t abide by the administration’s warnings.

“[T]he State Department has introduced a new warning indicator ‘D’ that is designed to help Americans understand where and when travel may incur increased risks of wrongful detention, potentially for long periods,” Biden said. “If travelers decide to go despite this ‘D’ warning, they need to know that they are incurring massive personal risk and that it may not be feasible for the U.S. Government to secure their release.”

Indeed, as the Associate Press notes, there are still Americans being held in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets.

“At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men — Eyvin Hernandez and Jerrel Kenmore — who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia,” the AP reports.

The exchange, which came after months of secret, back-channel talks “with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices,” happened on Saturday on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and Grenadines, which, according to three anonymous Venezuelan AP sources, “is ruled by an ally of Maduro.”

Meanwhile, Venezuela has been accused of setting its criminals free and sending them to the U.S. border, and according to The Epoch Times, “there may be worse to come.”

“The rogue state is allied with #China, #Russia, and #Iran,” the outlet reports. “Has the US invited a major national security threat to cross its doorstep?”

But, politics aside, the families of the released prisoners are just happy to see their loved ones again.

“I can’t believe it,” Cristina Vadell, the daughter of Tomeu Vadell,  told the AP. “This is the best birthday present ever. I’m just so happy.”

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