Venezuela releases two imprisoned Americans, including Gustavo Cárdenas of Citgo 6

The conditions of the release of the two US citizens were not immediately clear. State Department officials declined to comment.

The release comes after a group of senior US officials traveled to Caracas on Saturday for a meeting with President Nicolás Maduro to discuss the possibility of easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports as the Biden administration weighed banning imports of Russian oil. The delegation also called for the release of imprisoned Americans, including the “Citgo 6,” two former Green Berets who were accused in a plot to remove Maduro, and a former Marine who was arrested while traveling along the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.

The long-sought release of the Americans signals a potential thaw in the relationship between the Biden administration and the Maduro regime, Russia’s most important ally in South America, and comes as the US government tries to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion in Ukraine .

The Citgo oil executives for the Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corp., an oil refiner formerly controlled by the Maduro government, were invited to Venezuela for a meeting in November 2017. Once they arrived in Caracas, masked security agents detained all six men and imprisoned them on what the State Department has called “specious charges without due process or access to a fair trial.” They were later charged with money laundering, embezzlement, racketeering and participating in organized crime. They denied the allegations, and their lawyers have maintained their innocence.

For four years, family members of the Citgo 6 have urged the US government to help protect their imprisoned relatives and secure their release. Last month, a Venezuelan court upheld long prison sentences for the six oil executives, once again darting the hopes of relatives.

The “Citgo 6” were interviewed by the US delegation over the weekend, according to a person with direct knowledge of the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed negotiations. The visit was coordinated by the Maduro government, according to the person. A US diplomat met with some of the prisoners in December.

Speaking on Venezuela’s state-run television on Monday night, Maduro described the meeting with the US delegation as “respectful” and “very diplomatic,” adding that the two countries “agreed to work on an agenda moving forward.”

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