Host US ambassador Roger Carstens quietly traveled to Venezuela to see detained Americans

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The US State Department’s top official for hostage and detainee affairs quietly traveled to Venezuela last month as efforts to repatriate wrongfully detained Americans there continue.

Roger Carstens, the president’s special envoy for hostile affairs, visited the Venezuelan capital of Caracas shortly before Christmas, a US official and family members of detainees told CNN.

According to the US official, the December 2022 visit – previously unreported – was aimed at checking on the Americans who are still imprisoned in Venezuela. Carstens was accompanied by US consular officials.

The United States no longer has official relations with the government of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and there are no diplomats posted in the country, meaning access for Americans there is very limited.

At least four Americans are currently in custody: Luke Denman, Airan Berry, Eyvin Hernandez, and Jerrel Kenemore. The latter two were named by the US State Department as wrongfully detained.

Kenemore’s sister, Jeana Tillery, told CNN that Carstens was able to visit her brother and Hernandez for about 30 minutes. They brought him vitamins and Bibles as he requested, and his family was able to send him tuna as a Christmas present.

“When he first saw the tuna, he asked for a moment of silence, he was so happy,” said Tillery, who told CNN that she can talk to her brother several times a week.

Hernandez’s brother, Henry Martinez, said Carstens was able to deliver some goodies from the family such as vitamins, soap, honey and chocolate.

“They were able to tell him that they are working on his release and that they haven’t forgotten about him,” Martinez said.

Martinez told CNN that he is able to talk to Hernandez about twice a week for about five to 10 minutes, and that he worries his brother is starting to lose hope as he gets closer. arrest year in March.

Carstens has traveled several times to the Venezuelan capital to see Americans held there – many of whom the Biden administration secured their release last year.

In March 2022, Carstens brought two Americans from Venezuela – one of the “Citgo 6,” Gustavo Cárdenas, as well as dual Cuban-US citizen Jorge Alberto Fernandez. However, another visit in June ended without a prisoner being released.

At the beginning of October, the administration was able to free seven Americans – Jose Pereira, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano and Jose Luis Zambrano, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan – in a prisoner swap with the Maduro government.

Carstens told CNN in an exclusive interview late last November that “the United States has an ongoing dialogue with the other side”.

“So although we have work to do, I am left feeling optimistic,” he said at the time.

Although the Biden administration has engaged with the Maduro government on the issue of prisoners, it still officially recognizes the opposition in Venezuela, which recently ousted Juan Guaido as leader. The US has loosened some sanctions against Maduro’s government, however, announcing the easing of oil sanctions in November after the opposition and Maduro’s government began truce talks and reached an agreement to reach about humanitarian relief.

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