Venezuela liberated seven Americans in exchange for the US freeing two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife.

The transfer of Americans held for almost five years came to fruition after months of back-channel diplomacy by top US officials.  

Joe Biden said, “These people will soon be reunited with their family.”

“To all the families suffering and separated from wrongly jailed loved ones, know that we are devoted to securing their release.”

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The arrangement is Maduro’s unusual act of goodwill after overcoming most of his internal opponents in order to rebuild relations with the US.   

However, the White House has denied any change in policy toward Venezuela, but the release of Americans might give political leeway for the Biden administration to remove severe oil sanctions if Maduro makes headway in discussions with his opponents.

The transfer occurred Saturday in St Vincent and Grenadines, controlled by a Maduro loyalist, according to three Venezuelans informed on the subject. The Biden administration said the convicts came individually.

Among those let free are five Citgo workers from Houston: Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, and Jose Pereira.

They were persuaded to go to Venezuela just before Thanksgiving 2017 to attend a conference at the parent company’s PDVSA headquarters. When they arrived, undercover security personnel broke into a meeting room in Caracas and took them away.

In 2020, the men were found guilty of embezzlement after a trial that was full of delays and mistakes. They were sentenced to between eight and thirteen years in prison for a plan that was never carried out to refinance billions of dollars in oil company bonds.

Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested at a roadblock in Venezuela in 2020, and Osman Khan, a Florida man who was arrested in January, were both also set free.

The State Department considered that all of the men were being held against their will.

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