There was no immediate word on the fate of the other five CIDCO executives detained in Venezuela – four of them dual U.S. citizens and another US legal permanent resident.
President Biden confirmed the release of two Americans in a statement late Tuesday.
“Tonight, two Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once again,” Biden said. “We’re bringing Gustavo Gardinas and Jorge Fernandez home.”
The conditions for the release of the two American citizens were not immediately known. This release was first announced by the New York Times.
Biden made no mention of the conditions in his statement. He thanked Roger Carstens, Special Envoy for the Presidency, and other ambassadors for their “tireless efforts to free them and reunite these families.”
“Unjustly imprisoning Americans is not always acceptable,” Biden said. “While celebrating the return of Gardinas and Fernandez, we remember the names and stories of every American who was unjustly treated against their will in Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran and elsewhere. Around the world.”
The two returned to the United States on Wednesday morning, accompanied by Roger Gorstens, the ambassador’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Secretary of State Anthony Blingen said.
“We extend our deepest appreciation to those who have joined us in calling for the liberation of many of our allies around the world,” Blinken said in a statement. “While we welcome this important positive step, we continue to press for the release of all U.S. citizens who have been wrongfully detained in Venezuela and around the world.”
A group of senior U.S. officials traveled to Caracas on Saturday for a meeting with President Nicolas Maduro to discuss the possibility of easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports as the Biden administration bans Russian oil imports. ” .
The long-term liberation of the Americans marks a possible dissolution in the relationship between the Biden administration and Russia’s most important ally in South America, the Biden administration, and the US government’s attempt to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine. .
Six executives of Sitco Petroleum, a Houston-based oil refinery previously controlled by the Maduro government, were invited to Venezuela for a meeting in November 2017. When they arrived in Caracas, masked security agents detained and imprisoned all six. What State Department Called “special fees without proper procedure or access to a fair trial.”
They were later charged with money laundering, fraud, fraud and participation in organized crime. They denied the allegations and maintained that their lawyers were innocent.
For four years, SIDCO 6’s family members have been urging the U.S. government to help protect their relatives in prison and release them. Last month, a Venezuelan court upheld the long prison terms of six oil executives.
Citgo 6 was interviewed by the US team over the weekend, and a person who knew the case directly spoke anonymously to discuss the negotiations. According to the person, the visit was coordinated by the Maduro government. A U.S. diplomat met with some detainees in December.
Speaking on Venezuelan state-run television on Monday night, Maduro described the meeting with the US delegation as “respectful” and “very diplomatic” and said the two countries had “agreed to work on a moving agenda.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday declined to comment on whether oil was needed to restore ties with Maduro.
“I think it flows many stages ahead,” Psaki said. He said talks about imprisoned Americans were not tied to discussions about easing sanctions.
The United States and Venezuela severed diplomatic ties in 2019 after the US government recognized Juan Quito as the country’s legitimate president.
CIDCO 6 was placed under house arrest in December 2019, but was re-arrested two months later on the day President Donald Trump welcomed Quito to the White House. They were placed under house arrest again in April 2021, but were re-arrested in October after he extradited a close associate of Maduro, who was wanted on money laundering charges, to the United States.
For years, relatives of imprisoned CIDCO executives have expressed concern about the poor health of at least two men. In 2020, said Tomio Waddell, the wife of one of the executives Washington Post She was shocked by his appearance during a visit in 2018.
“He weighed 220, and he weighed 160 pounds.” [like] A prisoner of war, ”said Tommy’s wife, Dennis Waddell. “We want him back home.”
Schmidt reported from Bogot, Colombia. John Wagner of Washington contributed to this report.