The family of a California man reported that he was illegally arrested in Venezuela to demand tens of thousands of dollars in ransom, just days after the US government relaxed sanctions on the South American country’s executive branch in a framework of agreements with its opponents.
The previously unreported arrest of Savoi Wright on October 24 has become the latest point of contention between the United States and the government of Nicolás Maduro, which critics say should lead to the return of sanctions.
But all Wright’s family wants is for the 38-year-old businessman to come home. They know very little about the circumstances of his arrest.
No criminal charges have been filed; he has not been allowed to see a lawyer, and the Venezuelan government has not disclosed where he is being held.
In an interview on the sidelines of APEC, US Undersecretary for Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told Voice of America that the administration of President Joe Biden hopes that the Maduro government will take steps to ensure the release of Americans “wrongfully” detained in that country in the next few weeks as part of the new agreements.
Nichols said the United States is taking the terms of the deal “seriously” and expects Caracas to “come into compliance” before the end of November.
“I hope that these measures will be achieved, as will the release of American citizens who are overincarcerated in Venezuela,” Nichols answered when asked about Washington’s confidence in the word of the Venezuelan government.
“A terror movie”
“It’s a nightmare. It’s like watching a horror movie, but you’re inside it,” the mother of the man who was jailed in Venezuela last October, Erin Stewart, told The Associated Press in an interview on the phone from his home in Oakland.
Wright joins at least seven other US citizens imprisoned in Venezuela. But his arrest appears because it happened shortly after President Joe Biden took a political risk by easing some sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, such as an agreement signed on October 17 in Barbados between the Maduro government and the opposition to hold elections next year.
Almost immediately, Maduro appeared to reject the deal when the Supreme Court, ruled by judges loyal to the government, suspended the results of the primaries held by the opposition and won by former lawmaker María Corina Machado.
The Biden administration has said it is prepared to impose sanctions if Maduro violates the commitments made, which include lifting restrictions on Machado and others from holding public office and freeing political prisoners and illegal immigrants. detained US citizens before the end of November.
The position was also confirmed on Friday by the Treasury Department in response to questions about Wright’s imprisonment.
“Failure to abide by the terms of this agreement will lead the United States to reverse the steps taken,” said spokesman Matthew Miller.
Some Trump administration officials say Wright’s arrest is just the latest example of the Maduro government’s bad faith.
“That Maduro is playing with the lives of the American people is unacceptable,” said Kimberly Breier, the former top US diplomat in Latin America and the architect of the “maximum pressure” policy against Maduro under President Trump.
“There will be a bipartisan agreement in Washington in the coming days that the deal in Barbados, which is almost a month old, is done.”
Added Elliott Abrams, who is the Trump administration’s special envoy to Venezuela: “Maduro forced Biden’s hand.”