On March 8, Venezuela released two jailed U.S. citizens in an apparent goodwill gesture toward the Joe Biden administration following a visit to Caracas by a high-level U.S. delegation.
One of the prisoners freed was Gustavo Cardenas, among six Citgo oil executives arrested in 2017 and convicted on charges of corruption, according to his lawyer Jesus Loreto, and the human rights group Foro Penal.
The other was a Cuban American, identified as Jorge Alberto Fernandez, detained on unrelated charges, according to Reuters.
The weekend visit by the U.S. delegation focused not only on the fate of detained Americans but on the possibility of easing U.S. oil sanctions on the OPEC member to fill a supply gap if Biden banned Russian oil imports.
Washington D.C. has sought the release of at least nine men, including those known as the “Citgo 6,” two former Green Berets (United States Army Special Forces) and a former U.S. Marine.
The freeing of the two could set a more positive tone for talks between the United States and Venezuela, which have had hostile relations through successive American administrations.
Tuesday’s release followed talks with socialist President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday as the Biden administration sought ways to stave off the impact of soaring US gasoline prices spurred by efforts by the West to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Biden ramped up the pressure campaign on Moscow on Tuesday with his announcement of a US ban on Russian oil and other energy imports. The ban could further increase prices at the pump for American consumers, adding to inflationary pressure.
Venezuela is Russia’s closest ally in South America.