Venezuela, US reach prisoner swap deal as tensions ease

The 10 American prisoners freed by Venezuela in exchange for a jailed ally of President Nicolas Maduro, have arrived back in the United States in the latest sign of improving relations between Washington and Caracas.

The group, including six citizens the US considered wrongly imprisoned, landed at the San Antonio military base in Texas on Wednesday night.

“All the Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela are now safely back in the United States,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan wrote on social media platform X. “Welcome home.”

Savoi Wright, who was reportedly arrested and detained in October, told a journalist that while he sometimes received good care, he also feared for his life at times.

“I didn’t know if I would ever make it out,” he said.

Under the prisoner swap announced earlier on Wednesday by the White House, US President Joe Biden granted clemency to Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and Maduro ally who was being held in a Miami jail awaiting trial on a charge of money laundering.

Saab was also released from custody and returned to Venezuela on Wednesday, the Venezuelan government said.

US prosecutors have accused Saab of siphoning off $350m from Venezuela via the US in a scheme that involved bribing Venezuelan government officials. He has denied the charge.

“The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela celebrates with joy the liberation and return to his homeland of our diplomat Alex Saab, who until today was unjustly kidnapped in a U.S. jail,” the Venezuelan government said in a statement.

Reporting from Bogota, Colombia, Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti said Saab was seen as being “very close” to the Venezuelan leader.

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