The Venezuelan government’s reactions to the extradition of Alex Saab from Cape Verde to the United States last Saturday were swift.
As soon as it was learned that the Colombian businessman was aboard a plane on his way to Florida as part of the extradition process, the Venezuelan government issued the first statement at that did not doubt on qualify andl fact being a “kidnapping”.
The document also indicates that Saab is a diplomatic representative who “was arbitrarily tortured and detained for 491 days without an arrest warrant or due process.”
That same Saturday, the government withdrew from the negotiations it is carrying out with the opposition in Mexico and transferred six former officials from the Citgo refinery – five of them Americans – to jail in an act that was interpreted as retaliation for what happened. with Saab.
This extradition is the latest chapter in a long legal battle that was accentuated when Saab was arrested in Cape Verde on June 12, 2020.
Saab, 49, is accused in the United States of money laundering and of being one of the main front men of different corruption networks within the Venezuelan government.
Kidnapping has been the accusation used by the Venezuelan government since the Cape Verdean authorities confirmed the extradition.
“They kidnapped a good, innocent man, a clean and hardworking man, a man who what he has done has been to love the people of Venezuela,” said President Nicolás Maduro through the state television channel.
The Foreign Ministry of Venezuela condemned the event through a statement on Twitter and described it as “Arbitrary” and “irregular”, considering that it adds “to the actions of aggression, blockade and siege of the United States” against that Latin American country.
But the reactions have gone beyond the statements and statements.
Withdrawal from dialogue
The first measure taken by the government, the same day the extradition was known, was withdraw from negotiations that carries with the opposition in Mexico to find a way out of the political and social crisis that the country is experiencing.
The announcement was made by Jorge Rodríguez, leader of the government’s negotiating team, who indicated that his delegation would not travel to Mexico City for the next round of dialogue.
Rodríguez, reading a statement, described the decision to suspend the negotiations as “an expression of our deepest protest against the brutal aggression against the person and the investiture of our delegate Alex Saab Morán ”.
However, it is unclear whether Maduro’s representatives are completely withdrawing from future negotiations.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó condemned the government withdrawing from the dialogues and stated that Venezuela needs to continue with them.
“Our commitment to do justice and advance an agreement that provides urgent solutions to Venezuelans remains intact and we will not rest until we achieve it“Guaidó expressed through the social network Twitter.
“Venezuelans are, and should be, the only priority,” concluded the opposition leader.
The solutions that Venezuela needs are urgent and no interest should take precedence over emergency.
I reaffirm my commitment to continue insisting on the need to achieve a comprehensive agreement that solves the crisis, that allows us to do justice and recover as a country.
– Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) October 17, 2021
The Maduro government tried by all means to prevent the extradition of Saab from taking place, and even appointed him plenipotentiary ambassador and alternate permanent representative of the Venezuelan Mission to the African Union
The last of these measures was to name Saab as member of the negotiating team in the talks in Mexico.
A Justice Department spokesman said Saab is expected to appear in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday.
The Citgo Six
Hours after Saab’s extradition, Venezuela revoked the house arrest of six former Citgo refinery executives, a US subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA, according to the news agency Reuters.
The former Citgo executives, who were arrested in November 2017 after being summoned to a meeting at PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, were transferred from their homes to the prison of ANDl Helicoid.
The six former executives were released from jail and placed under house arrest last April.
The group is made up of five naturalized US citizens and one permanent resident: José Pereira Ruimwyk, José Luis Zambrano, Alirio José Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Gustavo Cárdenas.
According to María Alejandra Poleo, a lawyer for three of the six businessmen, they were moved to the headquarters of the Sebin (Bolivarian Intelligence Service) in Helicoide as a consequence of Saab’s extradition.
Speaking to BBC Mundo, Poleo said that “there has not been a court order” confirming the new detention center for businessmen, so they face a decision “of a political nature issued by a police authority or the executive branch.” .
“We speak of a political retaliation because we do not have a legal grip emanating from a natural source,” said the lawyer.
The US government also did not wait and demanded the “Immediate release” of entrepreneurs.
In statements collected by the Efe agency, the State Department says that “it will continue working to achieve the release of Americans detained unjustly in Venezuela”, because the safety of its citizens abroad is its “highest priority.”
Poleo expressed concern about the health status of the businessmen and said that one of them, Alirio Zambrano, has had breathing problems for a long time and sleeping has to be connected to an oxygen machine.
He said that they have no other options but to wait for instructions “emanating from the Executive.”
“The relatives are very dismayed, frustrated in their feelings since they thought or had some kind of hope that their relatives would at some point be repatriated,” said Poleo.
Citgo is the main oil refiner and marketer of gasoline, lubricant and petrochemicals that Venezuela has in the United States.
Protests in Caracas
Saab’s extradition also led to the concentration of several hundred protesters on Sunday in the center of Caracas as a show of support for the Colombian businessman, with the participation of his wife Camilla Fabri.
Fabri took the opportunity to read a letter issued by Saab in which he stated that he will face the process with “dignity” and that I had “nothing to collaborate with” with the US
“I will face the trial with total dignity. I want to make it clear that I have nothing to collaborate with the United States, I have not committed any crime, “Saab said through the letter.
“I declare that I am in full use of my reason, that I am not suicidal, in case they murder me and say that I committed suicide,” Fabri read with tears in his eyes.
Saab’s wife said she learned “from her sister” of the extradition process from Cape Verde, carried out “behind the lawyers and behind us.”
Chavismo has been moving its supporters for months to express their support for Saab, printing banners and T-shirts with messages such as “Saab resists” and “Alex hold on, the town rises”.
They are the same messages that the Venezuelan government has used on social networks to denounce that Saab was a victim of mistreatment and even torture during his detention in Cape Verde.
Saab is now one of Maduro’s closest confidants who will be available to US officials for questioning.
According to Washington, Saab transferred about US $350 million FOutside of Venezuela to accounts they controlled in the United States and other countries.
His extradition coincides with the approval of the extradition to the United States of Claudia Patricia Díaz Guillen by a court in Spain.
Díaz Guillén was a treasurer of the Venezuelan government and a nurse to the late President Hugo Chávez.
She is accused of money laundering and criminal organization for her participation in a currency exchange scheme that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits when she was a civil servant.
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