Illustration: Right Hand Man by Bill Day, FloridaPolitics.com
A new wave of tensions took place in Venezuela this week as Alex Saab, a Colombian national and associate of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, was extradited from Cabo Verde to the United States. U.S. authorities accuse Saab of leading a money laundering scheme for the Maduro government and hope he will reveal details that make it more difficult for Maduro to operate in the global financial system.
The Maduro government has made several attempts to prevent Saab’s capture and extradition since the United States initially issued a warrant for his arrest in 2019. On Christmas Eve 2020, while Saab was detained in Cabo Verde, Maduro appointed Saab as Venezuela’s permanent representative to the African Union. In September 2021, Maduro’s cabinet sought to name Saab as a “full member” of the regime’s delegation to Mexico City for negotiations with opposition leaders.
With Saab’s extradition this week, Maduro announced that the regime would suspend its participation in the Mexico City negotiations after only two rounds of meetings. The regime also placed six workers of Venezuela’s U.S.-based refinery Citgo in jail, including five U.S. citizens. The so-called Citgo 6 were originally arrested in July 2017 on corruption charges and placed under house arrest in April 2021.
It remains unclear whether the regime will end its involvement in negotiations altogether or demand Saab’s release in exchange for a return to talks. Further complicating matters is the quickly approaching date for regional elections in Venezuela, scheduled for November 21. The opposition is still expected to participate in the regional elections, but with Saab set to appear before a U.S. court on November 1 and the future of negotiations uncertain, tensions will likely only escalate further.