This is the largest trafficking in citizen detainees ever conducted by the Biden administration.

WASHINGTON — Venezuela on Saturday freed seven Americans jailed in the South American country in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, who had been jailed by the United States for years on drug-smuggling charges, a senior US official said.

American exchange, including five oil executives held for almost five yearsit is the largest trafficking in citizen detainees ever conducted by the Biden administration.

“It is with relief and joy that we welcome back into our families today the seven Americans who have been unlawfully detained in Venezuela for far too long,” said Joshua Geltzer, deputy national security adviser.

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It is a rare gesture of goodwill from Maduro as the Socialist leader seeks to restore relations with the United States after defeating most of his domestic opponents. The deal went through a few months later back channel diplomacy by Washington’s chief hostage negotiator and other US officials — secret negotiations with a major oil producer, which gained great relevance after sanctions against Russia put pressure on global energy prices.

Among those released are five Houston-based Citgo employees — Tome Waddell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the parent company’s headquarters in the state – oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were taken away by masked security agents who stormed the Caracas conference hall.

He was also released Matthew Heatha former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department called “apparent” weapons charges, and Florida resident Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.

Freed the USA Franky Flores and his cousin Efren Campo, nephews of the “First Fighter” Cilia Flores, as Maduro called his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti as part of a 2015 drug bust and immediately brought to New York for trial. The following year, they were convicted in a highly charged case that dealt harshly with US allegations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of the Maduro administration.

Both were pardoned by President Joe Biden before their release.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to bring home about 60 Americans it believes are being held hostage overseas or illegally detained by hostile foreign governments. While much of the focus is on Russia, where the US has so far tried unsuccessfully to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela holds the largest contingent of Americans suspected of being used as bargaining chips.

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At least four other Americans remain in custody in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets who took part in a coup attempt to oust Maduro in 2019 and two other men who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia.

The Biden administration has not released another prisoner long sought by Maduro: Alex Saab, a businessman insider who Venezuela says is a diplomat and US prosecutors say facilitates the corrupt regime. Saab fought extradition from Cape Verde, where he was arrested last year during a stopover on his way to Iran, and is now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning off millions in government contracts.

The oil company’s executives were found guilty of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to eight to 13 years in prison for a failed offer to refinance the oil company’s billion-dollar bonds. Maduro accused them of “treason” at the time, and Venezuela’s Supreme Court upheld their lengthy sentences earlier this year. The men have all pleaded not guilty, and the State Department has deemed them — and the two other Americans released Saturday — illegally detained.