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Venezuela releases two jailed US citizens after talks

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Venezuela has released two jailed US citizens following talks with a high-level US delegation in Caracas.

One of those freed is Gustavo Cárdenas, an executive with Citgo, a US refining company once controlled by Venezuela’s state oil firm.

The other is Jorge Alberto Fernández, who was arrested last year in Venezuela and accused of terrorism.

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US President Joe Biden confirmed their release and said both had been “wrongfully detained in Venezuela”.

In a statement, President Biden thanked Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and “the entire diplomatic team for their tireless efforts to secure their release and reunite these families”.

Mr Cárdenas is one of a group of six jailed oil executives known as the Citgo 6.

A lawyer for the Citgo 6 said that the remaining five oil executives “are still detained”.

The six – five of whom are Venezuelan-born US citizens, while one is a US permanent resident – were detained in Venezuela in 2017 on corruption charges.

In November 2020, they were sentenced to lengthy prison terms ranging between eight and 13 years.

While they were temporarily moved from jail into house arrest in April 2021, they were moved back to prison in October.

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said at the time of their transfer to prison that they were being held as “political pawns”.

Jorge Alberto Fernández is not one of the Citgo 6. His lawyer said his client was arrested in 2021 in Táchira state, which borders Colombia, for bringing a drone into the country.

The release of the two men is seen by analysts as a goodwill gesture by the Venezuelan government following a rare visit to Caracas by a high-level US delegation.

Sources told Reuters news agency that the two sides discussed the possibility of easing oil sanctions on Venezuela.

The South American country has huge oil reserves but the US imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in 2019 after President Maduro was sworn in to a second term in office following elections widely dismissed as neither free nor fair.

With oil expected to become scarcer following President Biden’s announcement on Tuesday that he would ban imports from Russia, the US has been looking for potential sources to make up the shortfall.

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On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed that “energy security” was one of the issues raised at the talks in Caracas.

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