MIAMI – Six American oil executives jailed in Venezuela more than three years ago on corruption charges were granted house arrest on Friday in a gesture of goodwill toward the Biden administration as it reviews its policy toward the politically turbulent South American country.
The partial release of the six employees of Houston-based Citgo was confirmed to The Associated Press by family members of the men.
Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira were hauled away by masked security agents while at a meeting in Caracas just before Thanksgiving in 2017. They had been lured to Venezuela in order to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA.
The so-called Citgo 6 were granted house arrest once before — in December 2019 — only to be re-jailed two months later on the same day that President Donald Trump welcomed opposition leader Juan Guaidó to the White House.
In releasing the men, Maduro could be betting he’ll receive a better hearing from President Joe Biden, who on the campaign trail called Trump’s policy of regime change an “abject failure” that has served only to strengthen the socialist leader.
Earlier this week, senior Biden officials from several federal agencies were scheduled to meet to weigh U.S. options, including whether to ease up on crippling oil sanctions it inherited and take steps to support an uncertain attempt at dialogue between Maduro and his opponents, according to two people familiar with the plans.
The meeting, which was to be attended by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, followed a series of moves by Maduro in recent days to grab Biden’s attention including yielding to longstanding U.S. demands that the World Food Program be allowed to operate in the country at a time of growing hunger.
In recent days Maduro’s allies have also quietly discussed with opponents the makeup of a new electoral council, joint efforts to combat the coronavirus and met with diplomats from Norway trying to revive negotiations to end the country's never-ending political crisis.