July 13, 2020 / 4:52 PM / a month ago

Veteran U.S. diplomat Richardson to meet Maduro to discuss jailed Americans

(Reuters) - Veteran U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson plans to travel to Caracas to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to discuss the status of several American citizens held as prisoners there, his foundation said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson fields a question during the University of Southern California's Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy inaugural Symposium in Los Angeles, California, September 24, 2012. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas/File Photo

In a message on Twitter, the Richardson Center said the former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would carry out what it called a private humanitarian mission to Venezuela “at the request of several American prisoners’ families.” It did not identify the detainees.

It was not clear when the visit would take place.

Venezuela’s government is currently holding two former U.S. special forces soldiers, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who authorities arrested in May for leading a failed incursion attempt aimed at capturing Maduro.

Maduro’s administration since 2017 has also imprisoned six oil executives from Citgo Petroleum Corp, the U.S. refining unit of Venezuela’s state-run oil company, on allegations of embezzlement. The U.S. government and lawyers for the executives have said the charges are baseless. Five of the executives have U.S. citizenship.

“We are aware of the private effort by former governor and ambassador Bill Richardson,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

“While this is not an effort sponsored by, or on behalf of, the United States government, we nonetheless hope for a positive outcome,” the spokesperson added, reiterating Washington’s call for the release of the Citgo executives.

President Donald Trump’s administration has tried to oust Maduro by imposing sweeping sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector and throwing its support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido. Maduro, who Guaido calls a dictator, has retained control and has used the security forces to crack down on his opponents.

Richardson has a history of working to get Americans released from hostile governments. He previously was involved in securing U.S. missionary Joshua Holt’s freedom from Venezuelan detention in 2018.

The Richardson Center said he also would discuss other humanitarian issues related to the coronavirus pandemic while in Venezuela.

Reporting by Angus Berwick in London; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Will Dunham

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