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Venezuela releases 2 Americans from jail after meeting with U.S. officials

March 9 (UPI) -- Venezuela, one of Russia's most loyal allies in South America, has released two American citizens who'd been jailed there, U.S. officials said.

The White House announced their release late on Tuesday

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Administration officials said that the released detainees are Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez. Cardenas had been jailed since 2017 and Fernandez since last year.

Cardenas is an oil executive who was arrested during a meeting in Caracas, and Fernandez was charged with terrorism and jailed for possessing a drone, which is illegal in Venezuela.

"Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable," President Joe Biden said in a statement. "And even as we celebrate the return of Cardenas and Fernandez, we also remember the names and the stories of every American who is being unjustly held against their will."

The men's release came after a high-level delegation from the United States flew to Venezuela to meet with President Nicolas Maduro. The United States previously closed its embassy in Caracas and severed ties with Maduro's government over concerns about serious human rights abuses in Venezuela.

Before the arrangement to release the Americans from jail, Maduro signaled interest in improving Venezuelan relations with the United States due to the Russian war in Ukraine.

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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.. chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, expressed concern that the deal with Venezuela could include buying oil from the South American nation -- a prospect that may be more likely after Biden banned all Russian-produced oil imports on Tuesday and due to rising gas prices in the United States.

"If the reports are true that the Biden administration is brokering the purchase of Venezuelan oil, I fear that it risks perpetuating a humanitarian crisis that has destabilized Latin America and the Caribbean for an entire generation," Menendez said in a statement Monday.

"Nicolas Maduro is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his reign of torture and murder."

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