Venezuela suspends talks following Maduro's extradition from the US

Venezuela's government declared Saturday that it would stop negotiations with its opposition in retaliation to President Nicolas Maduro's close ally. Prosecutors believe he could be the most important witness about corruption in South America.

Venezuela suspends talks following Maduro's extradition from the US

Jorge Rodriguez, the head of the delegation for the government, stated that his team would not travel to Mexico City for their next round of negotiations.

This announcement caps a turbulent day that saw Alex Saab, a Colombian-born businessman, board a U.S. bound plane in Cape Verde. It was the result of a 16-month-long fight between Maduro and his allies including Russia who consider the Venezuelan-born businessman a Venezuelan diplomat.

Six American oil executives were placed under house arrest just hours after the news of Saab’s extradition broke up Venezuelan social media. This was a sign that Washington and Caracas might have a new beginning after months of peaceful diplomacy since Joe Biden took office. The Citgo 6 is the name of the Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state oil company. Their families expressed dissatisfaction with both governments.

"The fact Mr. Saab was in the U.S. prior to my father is a disgrace," Cristina Vadell said. Her father Tomeu Vadell is one of the Americans serving long sentences for what the U.S. government considers trumped up charges.

She added, "This is further proof that these Americans are being held hostage in Venezuela. President Biden's Administration needs to recognize this immediately and win their release."

According to Nicole Navas Oxman, spokesperson for Justice Department, Saab will make his first appearance in court in Miami on Monday. She expressed gratitude and admiration for the professionalism of Cabo Verde's government and its "perseverance in dealing with this complicated case."

Saab, 49 years old, was stopped on his way to Iran by Maduro's government for a diplomatic humanitarian mission. He is now protected from prosecution.

He became a popular rallying cry quickly, with Venezuela's government stating months after his arrest the fact that the low-profile businessman was a representative of the African Union. These credentials were questioned by U.S. prosecutors.

Rodriguez stood in front of a banner that read "Free Alex Saab" and blasted the "brutal aggression” of the U.S. government, which has tried for years to overthrow Maduro without success. Rodriguez said that the Venezuelan government would protest his illegal "extraction" at multilateral forums, and would not participate in the next round. However, he did not say that the government would abandon negotiations altogether.

The Maduro government released a statement saying that the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela regretted the violation of human rights of a Venezuelan citizen who was being appointed as a diplomat and representative of Venezuela to the world. This is a dangerous precedent in international law.

Opposition leaders, including Juan Guaido (the U.S. recognizes Venezuela's legitimate leader), celebrated the possibility of Maduro's top insiders being held behind bars. This was a moral victory after a string of heartbreaking defeats in the streets to try and break Maduro's hold on power.

David Smolansky (a Caracas-area mayor) said that Venezuelans now feel justice after he was arrested for leading protests against Maduro. It's the same justice which has been evaded us over 22 years. It was necessary to find justice beyond our borders. Justice that seeks all those who are guilty of corruption, crimes against humanity, hunger, and the current migration crisis.

American authorities have been targeting Saab since years. They believe he has the key to unlocking the mystery of Venezuela's illegal sale of gold and crude oil tankers. They believe that he has many secrets about Maduro's family and top aides, and how they siphoned millions of dollars from government contracts for food and housing in the face of widespread hunger in Venezuela.

In 2019, federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Saab on money-laundering allegations in connection to an alleged scheme that allegedly involved bribery and which reportedly resulted in more than $350million in a low-income housing development for the Venezuelan government.

Separately, the Trump administration sanctioned Saab for allegedly using a network worldwide of shell companies -- in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, Hong Kong and Panama -- to conceal huge profits from no-bid food contracts that were overvalued and obtained via kickbacks and bribes.

According to the Trump administration, some of Saab’s contracts were obtained through bribes paid to the children of Cilia Flores (Venezuela's first lady). Two people familiar with the U.S. investigation said that the men were also being investigated by Miami prosecutors for allegedly participating in a scheme to siphon $1.2 million from Venezuela's state-owned petroleum company.

Although U.S. officials have described Saab in private as being a Maduro front man, he is not named in court filings.

Trump's previous administration made Saab extradition a top priority. At one point, a Navy warship was sent to the African archipelago in order to keep an eye out for the captive.

Saturday. Ivan Duque, the Colombian President, praised Saab's extradition, calling it "a triumph in the fight against money laundering, drug trafficking and corruption led by Nicolas Maduro's dictatorship."

The Biden administration, however, has downplayed Saab’s importance, saying that he can defend himself before U.S. courts, and that his case shouldn’t impact the ongoing negotiations sponsored by Norway to overcome Venezuela’s long-running economic crisis and political tug-of war.

Families of the nine Americans held in Caracas are less optimistic that Saab's legal troubles can be resolved by the futile attempts at a compromise.

The Citgo 6 were sentenced to lengthy prison terms last year for a never-executed plan of refinance billions of oil company bonds. They also include Matthew Heath, a former Marine and Green Berets Caracas, charged with weapons offences related to a sabotage plan.

"In a very disappointing twist of events, American detainees Venezuela are now being used to be political pawns," ex-Governor Bill Richardson from New Mexico, who traveled to Venezuela to secure the release of the Americans, stated in a statement. "We had hoped to have wellness visits with them, but now it seems we won't be able to."

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