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Chavista regime offered to exchange Americans for Alex Saab, considered Maduro’s front man

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The Chavista regime that controls Venezuela discreetly offered last year to free imprisoned Americans in exchange for the United States releasing Alex Saab, considered the front man of the illegitimate President Nicolás Maduro, according to sources familiar with the proposal and exchanges of messages to the accessed by The Associated Press (AP).

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The offer was discussed at a meeting in Mexico City in September 2020 by a collaborator of Mature and Richard Grenell, a close ally of then-President Donald Trump, said one of the meeting’s organizers.

The Trump administration rejected the offer, which has acquired new relevance after the extradition to Miami days ago of Saab, which according to US prosecutors was the main channel of corruption in the inner circle of Mature.

In retaliation, the Chavista regime returned to jail six executives of Houston-based Citgo, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, who were under house arrest.

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Just over a year ago, the illegitimate government of Mature appeared willing to free the six Citgo executives along with two former Green Berets linked to a failed cross-border foray attempt, in exchange for Saab, according to former Miami lawmaker David Rivera, who said he helped organize the meeting. .

Grenell He did not want to reveal what was discussed at the September 2020 meeting, but he flatly denied that it had to do with hostage negotiations.

I never discussed an exchange. It was not something that interested us or a matter of negotiation, ever. The purpose of the meeting was clear to all participants in the negotiation”He said in a short statement.

However, Venezuela’s interest in negotiating the freedom of Saab was corroborated by another person with knowledge of the proposal who spoke about the discreet diplomatic attempt on the condition of anonymity.

The AP also had access to text messages that followed a meeting of some of the organizers – but not Grenell or Erik Prince – discussing the next steps to reach an agreement for the release of American prisoners.

Prince, who met Grenell in Mexico City, he is the founder of the controversial security company Blackwater and brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education.

Rivera’s account raises new questions about the nature and scope of secret diplomacy. It will likely create new pressure on the Joe Biden government, criticized for not doing enough to free Americans detained abroad, to seek a settlement with Mature about prisoner swapping, something he resists.

According to Rivera, the one who invited him to join the efforts was Raúl Gorrín, a Venezuelan businessman who was trying to overcome the differences between the United States and Maduro when he was accused of attempting to bribe high-ranking officials of the regime, Rivera, a Republican who lasted a period in Congress, he said that he participated as a translator in conference calls through the Wickr messaging service, before the meeting in which Gorrín told Prince that Maduro was willing to exchange Americans for Saab.

Gorrín in Spanish and I in English made it perfectly and repeatedly clear to Prince that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the freedom of Americans in exchange for Saab”Declared Rivera.

Saab had been arrested months earlier in Cape Verde on his way to Iran and was fighting tooth and nail against extradition to the United States. He had the collaboration of the government of Mature, which considers the discreet Colombian-born businessman a diplomatic envoy and holder of state secrets that, if revealed, would compromise Venezuela’s national security.

According to Rivera, after several calls, Prince organized his and Grenell’s meeting in Mexico with Jorge Rodríguez, a senior Maduro collaborator and now president of the pro-government congress.

In 2019, Prince traveled to Caracas to meet with Rodríguez’s sister, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, consolidating her role as one of the few US interlocutors of Maduro’s isolated government.

Rivera pointed out that he, too, was supposed to attend the meeting, but was delayed by a connection in Houston.When he arrived in the Mexican capital, the meeting at the Westin Hotel had already failed at Grenell’s insistence that any prisoner swap include a plan for departure for Maduro, Rivera said.

In a later call, Prince told Gorrín that “for the Trump administration, Citgo’s six were not worth enough to be exchanged for Saab”, Detailed Rivera.

It is unclear whether the Trump administration considered Maduro’s offer. The trip to Mexico City surprised some senior officials of the Mexican government. Trump, who learned about it through the press and feared that it would undermine attempts to undermine Maduro through sanctions and investigations into corruption.

Unlike other prisoner exchanges with hostile governments, from Cuba to Iran, Saab he has not yet been tried for his alleged crimes. Furthermore, his arrest was the result of years of efforts by the US police, encouraged by warmongering sectors of foreign policy and influential Venezuelan exiles in Florida for whom Saab – the architect of efforts to evade US sanctions – was too valuable a trophy. to hand him over before the American justice condemned him.


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