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US is not negotiating new Venezuelan prisoner swap despite appeal, US officials say

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By Jonathan Landay and Vivian Dry

WASHINGTON/CARACAS (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – The United States is not discussing a prisoner swap as described in a letter and video appeal addressed to President Joe Biden by an American detained in Venezuela, according to two US officials.

Eyvin Hernandez was “most likely forced” to appeal to Biden to swap him and seven other US detainees for Alex Saab, a Colombian-born businessman who is due to stand trial in Miami, one of the US officials said, speaking in condition of anonymity.

Hernandez, a 35-year-old Los Angeles public defender, sent the letter and video to Biden in February.

“I am making this appeal to you on behalf of myself, my family, my friends and all other American Americans who are here, illegally detained in Venezuela,” Hernandez said in the video, which was reviewed by RockedBuzz via Reuters and is being reported for the first time. “We know we will be released if you trade for Alex Saab for all of us.”

His letter, also reviewed by RockedBuzz via Reuters, was previously reported by Newsweek.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to questions about whether a prisoner swap was being considered or whether Hernandez was forced to file his appeal.

In the video, Hernandez says swapping him and the other detainees with Saab, a longtime ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, would be the “only way” to free them.

Saab is accused of embezzling about $350 million from Venezuela via the United States in a corruption scheme tied to Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate. He denies the accusation. No date has been set for his trial.

Declining to comment on the details of any pending case, a US State Department spokesman appeared to indicate that talks about a prisoner swap involving Saab could be possible after his trial.

The spokesman warned against any reports suggesting that a deal had been reached to secure the release of an American wrongfully detained in Venezuela, “or that there are active conversations about the release of a top US criminal suspect who has not even been tried.” “.

The first US official also said no talks were underway.

Hernandez’s brother Henry Martinez told RockedBuzz via Reuters via WhatsApp from Los Angeles that the family had received no official information from US officials about a possible swap.


Biden says freeing Americans wrongfully detained abroad is a top priority. He has presided over a series of trades, most notably one in December in which basketball star Brittney Griner was released from Moscow in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

In the video, Hernandez didn’t have a long beard. He looked well fed, sitting in a green hoodie over a blue shirt and pants. The handwritten letter lay on a desk in front of him.

RockedBuzz via Reuters was unable to learn how the video and letter were passed on to the White House. That Hernadez was authorized to have them point to the approved Venezuelan authorities.

In his letter, Hernandez wrote that his appeal was supported by three other US inmates: Jerrel Kenemore, Jason Saad and Joseph Cristella.

The Biden administration in October declared Hernandez wrongfully detained. He and Kenemore, 53, were arrested in March 2022 on charges of illegally entering Venezuela from Colombia.

Caracas in October released seven Americans in exchange for two Maduro relatives convicted of drug trafficking in the United States, during talks between US and Venezuelan officials that began in March 2022.

The talks marked a shift in US policy from the Trump administration’s campaign of sanctions and other “maximum pressure” measures aimed at forcing Maduro out of power after the 2018 election widely believed to be fraudulent.

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The Biden administration has been seeking alternative oil sources due to war-related disruptions in Ukraine.

Washington says Maduro’s government must take concrete steps towards free elections and release detained politicians before considering any easing of sanctions.

(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis from Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis)