(WASHINGTON) — While the Biden administration ramped up outreach to Venezuela in the early months of this year, the Maduro regime imprisoned three Americans who are still behind bars, according to the State Department.
“We can confirm the arrest of U.S. citizens in Venezuela in January and March of this year. We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment,” a department spokesperson told ABC News on Wednesday.
While the spate of detentions initially flew under the radar, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Venezuelan security forces had arrested Eyvin Hernandez, 44, and 52-year-old computer programmer Jerrel Kenemore during separate incidents in late March.
The report added that another American was arrested in January but withheld identifying details at the request of their family.
Venezuela separately released two American prisoners in early March, following a visit to Caracas by a high-level U.S. delegation. One of those freed was oil executive Gustavo Cardenas, part of the “Citgo 6” who had been jailed since 2017, when they were called to the country for a meeting and arrested on corruption charges.
On Wednesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan was asked about President Joe Biden’s engagement on the newly revealed cases, but Sullivan did not directly answer.
“We did get a couple of Americans out and that was a great thing,” he said, referring to the two Americans freed this year. “But it was bittersweet because there’s a lot of Americans still there, and we’ve got to get them home.”
A spokesperson for White House National Security Council also declined to comment.
The U.S. government has since the Trump administration recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader — and has been trying to facilitate talks between his opposition party and President Nicolás Maduro. As part of those efforts, the Biden White House rolled back some energy sanctions targeting the regime in late May, which paved the way for negotiating future economic activity with American companies but stopped short of allowing for oil drilling to resume.
At the time, administration officials said both sides had agreed to swiftly return to the negotiating table.
But Maduro has not agreed to a date, so discussions remain stalled.
At least eight other Americans are considered to be wrongfully detained in Venezuela, including the rest of the “Citgo 6” and two U.S. veterans. One of them is Matthew Heath, who has been jailed in the country since September 2020.
Heath’s family said he attempted suicide in June. At the time, his relatives expressed dissatisfaction with the Biden administration’s efforts to bring him home.
“Matthew’s life is in imminent danger, and we don’t detect any urgency at all from the White House,” his aunt said in a statement. “We are frustrated with the pattern of ‘deciding not to decide’ at the White House, endless policy reviews, and empty platitudes about his case being a priority.”
Following the incident, sources said that U.S. officials believed they were making significant progress on Heath’s case but were ultimately left empty-handed.
Last week, one of the five American oil executives still detained in Venezuela, Jorge Toledo, wrote a letter to Biden calling on the president to work to free them and other wrongfully detained Americans, according to a spokesman for Toledo’s family.
A Biden administration official confirmed to ABC News that the White House had received the letter, although the official declined to say whether Biden had read it.
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