Is Maduro luring in Americans to capture and keep them as bargaining chips?

In early March, after senior U.S. officials made a rare visit to Caracas, the Biden administration announced a breakthrough:. Two Americans detained in Venezuela were free and flying home. Direct talks with the government of Nicolás Maduro seemed to be paying off.

But U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials were alarmed when, days later, two more Americans were quietly apprehended by Venezuelan authorities, seemingly replenishing Maduro’s stock of political prisoners. The detentions raised fears within the Biden administration that the Maduro regime “is working more aggressively to increase its leverage of detained Americans,” one senior U.S. official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald.

At the time, White House officials said they had simply rewarded Maduro with an in-person meeting in exchange for the freedom of the two Americans. But modest sanctions relief on Venezuela’s state-run oil company followed months later, as senior Biden officials encouraged Maduro and Venezuela’s democratic opposition to resume negotiations in Mexico City over the country’s political future.

Now, U.S. officials are torn over how to negotiate over the freedom of the Americans who remain in detention without encouraging Maduro to increase the practice.

In total, at least three Americans have been detained by Venezuela this year, joining at least eight more Americans — including five oil executives and three veterans — that the U.S. government believes are being wrongfully detained.

On Tuesday, the State Department introduced a new feature on travel warnings indicating whether a country has made a practice of wrongfully detaining Americans. Venezuela is one of only six countries on the list, joining Russia, Iran, North Korea, China and Burma (Myanmar).

A Maduro strategy

Senior officials in the Venezuelan opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, fear that Maduro has adopted a strategy of arresting Americans and charging them with espionage in an attempt to coerce President Joe Biden to release Alex Saab, a close Maduro associate imprisoned in Miami facing federal criminal charges.

The Yucatan Times