Venezuela jails American hostages after extradition

Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP

As if we didn’t already have enough problems with other adversarial nations on our plate, the situation with Venezuela has started heating up again this weekend. The United States moved to extradite Alex Saab to America to stand trial on charges of money laundering. Saab is a Columbian businessman and a close associate of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro who had previously been indicted on these charges before fleeing to the island refuge of Cape Verde. He had originally been arrested while traveling to Iran on Maduro’s behalf and we’ve been trying to extradite him ever since.

This move clearly drove Maduro into a frenzy and he quickly responded by withdrawing his delegation from the ongoing talks between Washington and Venezuela that are currently being hosted in Mexico by representatives of Norway. On top of that, Maduro ordered the arrest and detention of six American oil executives (known as the Citgo 6) who had already been under house arrest. Saab has the support of Russia and Cuba, both of whom protested the extradition. (Associated Press)

A top fugitive close to Venezuela’s socialist government has been put on a plane to the U.S. to face money laundering charges, a senior U.S. official confirmed Saturday.

Alex Saab was on a chartered Justice Department flight from Cape Verde, where he was arrested 16 months ago while making a stop on the way to Iran for what Nicolás Maduro’s government later described as a diplomatic humanitarian mission.

The official spoke on condition he not be named. Earlier, several media outlets in Cape Verde also reported his extradition, citing unnamed sources. A public relations firm representing Saab said in an email that the Colombian businessman was taken from his home without his lawyers being notified.

As to the Citgo 6, this is probably becoming old hat for them by now. Maduro has been switching them back and forth between jail and house arrest since 2017. They were most recently released from jail and back to house arrest in May. The trumped-up charges Maduro hit them with are a joke and they are essentially hostages that he uses as pawns every time he has some new beef with the United States.

The Trump administration had been going after Saab in a big way, though there were so many legal hoops to jump through that he never managed to get him out of Cape Verde before the end of his presidency. Why Biden was continuing the pursuit isn’t entirely clear because the guy is such a perennial thorn in our sides. I get that he no doubt knows a lot of inside information on the corruption in Venezuela that both he and Maduro profited from handsomely (while the nation’s citizens starved), but do we really think he’s going to give up any valuable intelligence to us? And to be honest, given all of the dealings he was involved in between Maduro, Iran and who knows who else, hitting him with a money laundering charge is sort of like going after Al Capone for cheating on his taxes.

With all of that said, perhaps getting Saab under our control for a while might come in handy anyway. Both the Trump and Biden administrations failed to make any real progress in gaining concessions from Maduro since he took over and collapsed his nation’s economy. We are also not getting any closer to getting the Citgo 6 released, primarily because it’s almost impossible to have any rational dealings with a deranged tyrant. (Maduro and Kim Jong-un have a lot in common in that regard.)

Saab is obviously a valuable asset to Maduro and he would probably be willing to cut some sort of a deal for him. Perhaps if we could pick up a few more of Maduro’s close associates and lock them up, he might be willing to do a prisoner exchange. I’m fully aware of just how bad the optics of such a deal would be and we would essentially be negotiating with a terrorist, but if it’s the only way to get our people out of Maduro’s clutches, might it not be worth it to bite the bullet and just give it a try? It seems like the worst that would happen is the deal might fall through and we’d basically be back where we are now but we’d have a few more scumbags off the streets.