The Venezuelan government is halting negotiations with its opponents in retaliation for the extradition to the United States of a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro, who prosecutors say could be the most significant witness to corruption in the South American country.
Jorge Rodríguez, who has led the government delegation, said his team would not travel to Mexico City for the next scheduled round of negotiations.
The announcement capped a tumultuous day in which Colombian businessman Alex Saab was placed on a US-bound plane in Cape Verde after a 16-month fight by Maduro and his allies, including Russia, who consider Saab a Venezuelan diplomat. .
The Venezuelan government named Saab, who was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel, as a member of its negotiating team in talks with the opposition in Mexico, where the two sides seek to resolve their political crisis. . .
Rodríguez, reading a statement, described the decision to suspend the negotiations as “an expression of our deepest protest against the brutal aggression against the person and the inauguration of our delegate Alex Saab Moran.”
The Venezuelan opposition leadership did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Venezuela, in a Twitter post from the Ministry of Communications, denounced the extradition as a “kidnapping.”
Hours after Saab’s extradition, Venezuela reversed the house arrest of six former executives at the Citgo refinery, the US subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA, two sources with knowledge of the situation and a relative told Reuters.
The US Department of Justice had indicted Saab, who also has Venezuelan citizenship, in 2019 in connection with a bribery scheme to take advantage of Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate. The United States also sanctioned him for allegedly orchestrating a corruption ring that allowed Saab and Maduro to benefit from a state food subsidy program.
Saab faces up to 20 years in prison. His lawyers called the US charges “politically motivated.”
Saab is expected to make his first court appearance Monday in Miami, according to Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman, who expressed gratitude and admiration to the Cape Verdean government for its professionalism and “perseverance in this complex case.”
Cape Verde’s national radio reported on the extradition on Saturday. The Cape Verdean government was not immediately available for comment.
In a Twitter post, Colombian President Iván Duque called Saab’s extradition “a triumph in the fight against drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption of the Nicolás Maduro dictatorship.”
The previous Trump administration had made extradition of Saab a top priority, and at one point even sent a Navy warship to the African archipelago to guard the captive.
The former Citgo executives, who were arrested in November 2017 after being summoned to a meeting at PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, were transferred from their homes to one of the intelligence police headquarters, two sources said.
The six former executives had been released from jail and placed under house arrest in April.
The group is made up of five naturalized US citizens and one permanent resident. The United States government has repeatedly demanded his release.
“My father cannot be used as a bargaining chip,” said Cristina Vadell, daughter of former executive Tomeu Vadell. “I am concerned for his health, even more so given the cases of coronavirus in the country.”
The communications ministry and the attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism