Venezuela halts talks after Maduro ally’s extradition
Forces re-apprehend six U.S. oil executives held on house arrest
MIAMI—Venezuela’s socialist government said it would suspend negotiations with its opponents in retaliation for the extradition to the U.S. of a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro to face money laundering charges.
Jorge Rodríguez, who has been heading the government’s delegation, said his team wouldn’t travel to Mexico City for the next scheduled round of negotiations.
The announcement capped a tumultuous day that saw businessman Alex Saab placed on a U.S.-bound plane in Cape Verde after a 16-month fight by Maduro and his allies, including Russia, who consider the Colombian-born businessman a Venezuelan diplomat.
A few hours after Saab’s extradition blew up Venezuelan social media, six American oil executives held on house arrest were picked up by security forces — a sign that relations between Washington and Caracas could be upended after months of quiet diplomacy since Joe Biden entered the White House. Families of the men known as the Citgo 6 — for the Houston subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company where they worked — fear they could be thrown back into jail.
“The fact that Mr. Saab is in the U.S. before my father is a disgrace,” said Cristina Vadell, whose father, Tomeu Vadell, is among the Americans serving out long sentences in the country on what the U.S. government considers trumped-up charges.
“This is additional proof that these Americans are held hostage in Venezuela, and President Biden’s administration needs to recognize this and win their release immediately.”
Saab, 49, was arrested in the African archipelago while making a stop on the way to Iran for what Maduro’s government later described as a diplomatic humanitarian mission that gives him immunity from prosecution.
He quickly became a revolutionary rallying cry, with Venezuela’s government saying months after his arrest that the low-profile businessman had been appointed earlier a representative to the African Union — credentials whose authenticity and relevance U.S. prosecutors have questioned.
Rodríguez, standing in front of a sign reading “Free Alex Saab,” blasted what he said was a “brutal aggression” on the part of a U.S. government that has been trying for years without success to oust Maduro.