Breaking News
Investing Pro 0
👀 Bezos, Buffett & Berkowitz: What's in Their Portfolios? Unlock Data

U.S. not negotiating new Venezuela prisoner swap despite appeal, say U.S. officials

Published Mar 12, 2023 06:17AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators of the "Free Alex Saab" movement participate in a rally in front of the National Assembly of Venezuela demanding the release of Saab, a Colombian businessman with Venezuelan ties who was extradited to the U.S. on a charge of mone

By Jonathan Landay and Vivian Sequera

WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) - The United States is not discussing a prisoner exchange as described in a letter and video appeal addressed to President Joe Biden by an American detained in Venezuela, according to two U.S. officials.

Eyvin Hernandez was "quite possibly coerced" into appealing to Biden to swap him and seven other U.S. detainees for Alex Saab, a Colombian-born businessman facing trial in Miami, said one of the U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hernandez, a 35-year-old Los Angeles public defender, sent the letter and video to Biden in February.

"I'm making this appeal to you on behalf of myself, my family, my friends, and all the other U.S. Americans that are here, unlawfully detained in Venezuela," Hernandez said in the video, which was reviewed by Reuters and is being reported for the first time. "We know that we will be released if you make a trade for Alex Saab for all of us."

His letter, also reviewed by Reuters, was previously reported by Newsweek.

The Venezuelan Ministry of Information did not respond to questions about whether a prisoner swap was being considered, or whether Hernandez was coerced into making his appeal.

In the video, Hernandez says swapping him and the other detainees for Saab, a long-time ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, would be the "only way" they could be freed.

Saab is charged with siphoning around $350 million out of Venezuela through the U.S. in a bribery scheme linked to Venezuela's state-controlled exchange rate. He denies the allegation. No date has been set for his trial.

Declining to comment on the specifics of any ongoing case, a U.S. State Department spokesperson appeared to indicate that talks on a prisoner swap involving Saab might be possible after his trial ran its course.

The spokesperson cautioned against any reporting that suggested a deal had been reached to secure the release of an American wrongfully detained in Venezuela, "or that there are active conversations about releasing a major U.S. criminal suspect who hasn't even gone to trial."

The first U.S. official also said no negotiations were underway.

Hernandez' brother, Henry Martinez, told Reuters by WhatsApp from Los Angeles that the family had received no official information from U.S. officials about any possible exchange.


Biden says freeing Americans wrongfully detained overseas is a top priority. He has presided over a number of swaps, notably one in December in which basketball star Brittney Griner was released by Moscow in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

In the video, Hernandez was unshaven. He appeared well-fed, sitting in a green sweatshirt over a blue shirt and pants. The hand-written letter lay on a desk before him.

Reuters was unable to learn how the video and letter were conveyed to the White House. That Hernadez was allowed to make them indicated Venezuelan authorities approved.

In his letter, Hernandez wrote that his appeal for was backed by three other U.S. detainees: Jerrel Kenemore, Jason Saad and Joseph Cristella.

The Biden administration in October declared Hernandez wrongfully detained. He and Kenemore, 53, were arrested in March 2022 on charges of illegally entering Venezuela from Colombia.

Caracas in October released seven Americans in exchange for two of Maduro's relatives convicted on drug trafficking charges in the United States, amid talks between U.S. and Venezuelan officials that began in March 2022.

The talks marked a shift in U.S. policy from the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign of sanctions and other measures aimed at forcing Maduro from power following 2018 elections widely deemed fraudulent.

Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves. The Biden administration has been seeking alternative oil sources because of disruptions related to the war in Ukraine.

Washington says Maduro's government must take concrete steps toward free elections and release detained politicians before it considers any easing of sanctions.

U.S. not negotiating new Venezuela prisoner swap despite appeal, say U.S. officials

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.
  • Any comment you publish, together with your profile, will be public on and may be indexed and available through third party search engines, such as Google.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email