An envoy for the American hostages, Roger Carstens, quietly traveled to Venezuela to see the captured Americans



CNN

The US State Department’s top official for hostage and detainee affairs quietly traveled to Venezuela last month as efforts continue to bring Americans wrongfully detained home.

Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, visited the Venezuelan capital of Caracas shortly before Christmas, a US official and family members of the detainees told CNN.

According to the US official, the December 2022 trip — which had not been previously reported — focused on checking on Americans still imprisoned in Venezuela. Carstens was accompanied by US consular officials.

The United States no longer has official relations with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and has no diplomats in the country, meaning Americans have very limited access there.

There are at least four Americans currently being held there: Luke Denman, Eran Berry, Even Hernandez, and Jerrell Kennemore. The latter two have been designated by the US State Department as being unjustly detained.

Kenmore’s sister, Gina Tillery, told CNN that Carstens was able to visit her brother and Hernandez for about 30 minutes. They brought him vitamins and Bibles at his request, and his family was able to send him tuna as a Christmas gift.

“When he first saw the tuna, he asked for a moment of silence, he was so happy,” said Tillery, who told CNN she is able to talk to her brother several times a week.

Hernandez’s brother, Henry Martinez, said the Carstens were able to drop off some goodies from the family like vitamins, soap, honey, and chocolate.

“They were able to tell him that they were working on his release and that they hadn’t forgotten about him,” Martinez said.

Martinez told CNN he’s able to speak with Hernandez twice a week for five to 10 minutes, and he’s worried his brother is starting to lose hope as a year of detention approaches in March.

Carstens has traveled several times to the Venezuelan capital to see Americans held there — and the Biden administration secured the release of several of them last year.

In March 2022, Carstens brought two Americans from Venezuela – one from “Citgo 6”, Gustavo Cárdenas, as well as Cuban-American dual citizen Jorge Alberto Fernandez. However, another flight in June ended without the release of prisoners.

At the beginning of October, the administration managed to free seven Americans—José Pereira, Jorge Toledo, Tomeo Fadel, Alirio Zambrano, José Luis Zambrano, Matthew Heath, and Osman Khan—in a prisoner exchange with the Maduro government.

Carstens told CNN in an exclusive interview late last November that the United States is having an “ongoing conversation with the other side.”

“While we have work to do, I feel hopeful,” he said at the time.

Although the Biden administration has engaged the Maduro government on the prisoner issue, it continues to formally recognize the opposition in Venezuela, which recently ousted Juan Guaidó as its leader. The United States eased some sanctions against the Maduro government, but announced a easing of the oil sanctions in November after the opposition and Maduro’s government resumed stalled talks and reached an agreement on humanitarian relief.

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