Toronto Star

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.

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