Venezuela has released two jailed Americans as the two countries seek to improve relations amid an energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Gustavo Cárdenas, an executive with US oil refining company Citgo was released on Tuesday night, along with Jorge Fernández, who was arrested last year on terrorism charges the White House described as “spurious”.
“These men are fathers who lost precious time with their children and everyone they love, and their families have suffered every day of their absence,” Joe Biden said in a statement.
Despite boasting the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela is mired in political, economic and social crises, with widespread shortages in food and fuel.
President Nicolás Maduro has brutally clamped down on dissent, arresting and torturing protesters and perceived enemies, and has been accused of rigging a string of elections.
The US broke diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government in 2019, recognizing the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the South American country’s legitimate president, while leveling sanctions on Venezuela and its state-controlled oil sector.
But over the weekend White House representatives visited Caracas for talks – the first trip of its kind in over 20 years – in an apparent attempt to pull Venezuela away from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.
The release of the two Americans on Tuesday night came hours after Maduro appeared to indicate interest in improving relations with the US, hinting that he was willing to resume negotiations with the opposition.
Cárdenas, along with five other Citgo executives – known as the Citgo Six – had been detained since 2017, after being lured to Caracas for a meeting at the offices of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state owned oil company of which Citgo is a subsidiary. The other five remain detained.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, confirmed that Cárdenas and Fernández were back in the US.
Observers say that the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led both the White House and Maduro to cautiously pursue a better relationship.
“Yesterday’s release is welcome news, as is the decision by the Biden administration to engage directly with President Maduro, despite having no formal diplomatic relations for the past three years,” said Phil Gunson, a Venezuela analyst at the International Crisis Group, to thinktank .
“It is clear that the trigger for this renewed engagement is the energy crisis faced by the US and its allies, now driven primarily by the war in Ukraine and the move to ban imports of Russian oil and gas.
“As Washington seeks a deal with Maduro involving sanctions relief in exchange for alleviating the oil shock,” Gunson went on to say, “it will rightly be under pressure not to leave out of the equation the need for progress in restoring institutional rule in Venezuela and resolving the political and humanitarian crises.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism