Biden Frees Maduro’s Cocaine-Trafficking ‘Narco-Nephews’ in Venezuela Hostage Swap

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2015, file courtroom sketch, two nephews of Venezuela's first lady
Elizabeth Williams via AP, File

President Joe Biden conducted a prisoner swap with the socialist regime of Venezuela that materialized on Saturday, releasing two of dictator Nicolás Maduro’s nephews who had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in America for cocaine trafficking in exchange for seven imprisoned American oil workers.

The Biden administration announced the release of the seven American citizens via an official statement published Saturday.

“Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath, and Osman Khan. These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong,” the statement read.

Five of the seven American citizens were executives of the Houston-based Venezuelan Citgo oil company.

The White House statement omitted that these American citizens were released as part of a prisoner swap for Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, whom Venezuelans have commonly referred to as the narcosobrinos (“narco-nephews”) since their arrest and conviction on drug trafficking charges in New York. Flores and Flores de Freitas are the nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife and “First Combatant” of the socialist regime — a made-up term to elevate her above “first lady” status.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro dances next to his wife, Cilia Flores, during a pro-government demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nearly three weeks after the Trump administration backed an all-out effort to force out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the embattled socialist leader is holding strong and defying predictions of an imminent demise. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro dances next to his wife, Cilia Flores, during a pro-government demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Both of Maduro’s nephews were arrested in November 2015 by DEA authorities in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, while allegedly attempting to transport 800 kilograms of cocaine belonging to Colombia’s Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist organization into the United States. Both were convicted and sentenced to 18 years in a U.S. prison in December 2017.

The Biden administration, which granted clemency to both of Maduro’s nephews, said in the official White House statement that Biden was “grateful for the hard work of dedicated public servants across the U.S. Government who made this possible, and who continue to deliver on my Administration’s unflinching commitment to keep faith with Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained all around the world.”

The Maduro regime celebrated the prisoner swap as a victory, releasing an official statement that refers to the “narco-nephews” as “two young Venezuelans” who were “unjustly arrested” in the United States. The regime claimed that it released the Americans for “humanitarian reasons.” The Maduro regime’s statement also mentions that the swap took place as a result of different conversations between the socialist regime and the Biden administration — directly contradicting Biden’s assertions during the 2020 presidential campaign that Maduro was “afraid” of a Biden victory and his campaign’s promise not to “negotiate with dictators.”

Shortly after the announcement, the administration of Venezuela’s legitimate (yet powerless) president, Juan Guaidó, released a statement clarifying that they had no involvement in the negotiations that led to the release of Maduro’s nephews, but he celebrated the release of the American citizens.

“Any gesture must go in the direction of recovering democratic institutions, defeating the dictatorship, and defending respect for human rights. Any other direction would be detrimental to Venezuela and the entire world. We are and will always be with the Venezuelan people and their inalienable struggle for freedom,” Guaidó’s statement read.

FILE - This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020, by then Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left to right, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. On Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, Venezuela freed seven Americans, including five oil executives imprisoned for nearly five years, in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro's wife who had been jailed for years by the United States on drug smuggling convictions.(Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP File)

This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020, by then Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry via AP File)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lambasted the move on Sunday, expressing to CNN that the swap puts Americans in danger worldwide.

“That has now put a price tag on Americans. Every time you do one of these deals — and I wanted those people released as much as anybody — but every time you do this, now others know, ‘I can take Americans, I can hold them until I need something as a bargaining chip,’” Sen. Rubio said. “I think seven innocent American hostages in exchange for two convicted drug dealers, who happened to be the nephews of Maduro, is a huge win for Maduro and, unfortunately, puts Americans all over the world now in danger.”

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele also commented on Biden’s release of the convicted nephews through his Twitter account.

“On this day, my Venezuelan brothers realized that we are just pawns for the global elites. Our causes are used and discarded at convenience, it does not even depend on what we do or not. Our freedom will only come from ourselves,” Bukele posted.

In another tweet, Bukele wrote, “He who spares the wolf sacrifices the sheep.”

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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