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Sen. Rubio on Biden-Maduro swap: "This is why terrorists & tyrants keep taking Americans hostage"

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CBS News Miami Live

MIAMI - Over the weekend, the Biden administration swapped two Venezuelans convicted of drug trafficking for seven Americans held in that South American nation. 

"...Biden released two convicted drug dealer nephews of  Venezuela dictator Maduro in exchange for 7 innocent Americans being held hostage.  Another Biden appeasement that will result in more anti-U.S. dictators taking more innocent Americans hostage in the future," said US Senator Marco Rubio on his Twitter account.  

"This is why terrorists & tyrants keep taking Americans hostage, they know they can get something for them in return."  

The transfer took place Saturday in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and Grenadines, which is ruled by an ally of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.

Clemency was granted for Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo, nephews of "First Combatant" Cilia Flores, as Maduro calls his wife. 

The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and convicted the following year in New York in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro's administration.

Those freed include five employees of Houston-based Citgo - Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira - who were lured to Venezuela right before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company's parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were hauled away by masked security agents who busted into a Caracas conference room.

The men were convicted of embezzlement in 2020 in a trial marred by delays and irregularities and sentenced to between eight years and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company's bonds.

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela, and a Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.

The State Department had regarded all the men as wrongfully detained.

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