Sun, 28 Nov 2021

Mrida, October 18, 2021 ( The Venezuelan government suspended negotiations with the US-backed Juan Guaid opposition on Saturday following Alex Saab's extradition to the United States.

Government envoy Saab was detained on an Interpol warrant in July 2020 on a stop-off in Cape Verde reportedly en route to the Middle East to close food import deals for the Latin American government. Caracas recently appointed the businessman as a delegate at the Mexico-based talks, which were due to enter their fourth round the day after his extradition. US authorities had previously endorsed the dialogue.

Previous negotiations between the Caracas government and US-back opposition in August and September had led to few concrete results so far, including the release of a number of opposition politicians who have since signed up to run in November's regional and local elections, an IMF funding injection worth US $5.1 billion and a joint agreement to defend Venezuela's Essequibo Strip. The latest session was reportedly due to address social development issues.

Following Saab's extradition, chief government negotiator Jorge Rodrguez announced the "suspension" of his team's participation in the talks in protest against the "illegal and inhumane" move. It is unclear if the government plans on returning to the table in the future.

On Monday, the Colombian-born magnate had his request for bail rejected by Southern District of Florida Judge John O'Sullivan during a 15-minute preliminary hearing via Zoom. The arraignment session was fixed for November 1. Over three hundred people reportedly watched Monday's hearing, including Guaid's US representative Carlos Vecchio and allied Deputy Carlos Paparoni. Saab's US lawyer, Henry Bell, is yet to comment on the case.

In Florida, the sanctioned Saab faces seven charges of laundering a total of US $350 million and one of conspiracy to launder, all levied against him by the US Treasury in 2019. If convicted, he may face up to twenty years in prison.

The import contractor is the alleged owner of a number of companies which Washington accuses of fraudulently benefiting from over-priced government contracts and exchange rate disparities, including through the government-run CLAP subsidized food program as well as in the construction, oil, gold and carbon industries. He is also wanted by Colombian authorities, which seized seven of his luxury properties in 2021 including one worth US $7.6 million.

Saab is considered to be one of the masterminds behind the network of logistical and payment channels which the Caracas government has increasingly resorted to in order to dodge Washington's "illegal" and "devastating" blockade. He is described by some as President Nicols Maduro's business frontman or accountant.

His Cape Verde legal team and the Maduro government have been vociferous in denouncing a number of irregularities in his case, including violations of due process during his arrest, imprisonment, and extradition. They likewise claim that he has been the victim of torture and other human rights abuses, and that the charges against him are "politically motivated."

On Saturday, Caracas published a statement denouncing Saab's "kidnapping," while on Sunday the president also told the country that "yesterday was a sad day for justice () when the blockade kicked in, he [Saab] brought food and oil."

Saab's wife, Italian model Camilla Fabbri Saab, who has reportedly been the subject of a corruption probe in her home nation as well, led a small rally in Caracas over the weekend, in which she tearfully thanked her husband's "sacrifice."

For his part, US-back Guaid blasted the government's "irresponsible" decision to suspend the Mexico negotiations and accused Maduro of "abandoning the Venezuelans" to "show loyalty to someone who profited from hunger."

For his part, Colombian President and US ally Ivn Duque applauded the extradition, describing it as a "triumph in the struggle against drug running, money laundering and corruption."In contrast to Colombia's position, Moscow and Tehran spoke out against the US extradition.

Saab's extradition and trial has also sparked fierce debates within Venezuela, with some social media users decrying the implications for international law and the country's efforts to defeat Washington's sanctions, while others highlighted Saab's "oligarchic" nature and huge wealth.

Likewise, some users pointed out the contradiction between Caracas' ample campaign for Saab's liberation and the "arrest of over 300 [Venezuelan] workers without evidence or due process for having demanded a fair wage or denouncing corruption () [They] deserve the same opportunity to highlight their cases in the media."

Some Twitter users additionally linked the timely extradition to Cape Verde's presidential election on Sunday, in which the US-backed candidate Carlos Veiga was trailing his leftist competitor Jos Maria Neves. #AlexSaab was still trending on Twitter on Monday.

Caracas hits back

Hours after Saab's extradition, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) picked up five US citizens and one permanent US resident in Caracas.

The six former directors of US-based oil subsidiary CITGO often referred to as the "CITGO 6" were found guilty of embezzling US $4 billion in 2017 but had been granted house arrest in May this year.

While no official announcement has been made, family members and lawyers told reporters that authorities have returned Jos ngel Pereira, Gustavo Crdenas, Jorge Toledo, Jos Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jos Zambrano to prison as a direct reprisal for Saab's extradition.

Following the move, Washington issued a statement in which it claimed that "These six Americans and their families have suffered long enough. The United States continues to call for their immediate release and return." The ex-oil directors deny all charges.


The "CITGO 6" returned to Caracas' prison system reportedly in retaliation for Washington's extradition of Alex Saab over the weekend. (Reference)


The "CITGO 6" returned to Caracas' prison system reportedly in retaliation for Washington's extradition of Alex Saab over the weekend. (Reference)

The "CITGO 6" returned to Caracas' prison system reportedly in retaliation for Washington's extradition of Alex Saab over the weekend. (Reference)

Paul Dobson | source: venezuelanalysis

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