Venezuelans react with amazement and disappointment to the release and arrival in Caracas of Alex Saab.

'Saab was received on the airplane's stairs that brought him to Venezuela by Cilia Flores, Maduro's partner, and then transferred with honors to the gardens of the Miraflores Palace.'

Venezuelans react with amazement and disappointment to the release and arrival in Caracas of Alex Saab.

Venezuelans vented their disappointment and astonishment through social media, in light of a new prisoner exchange between the governments of Nicolás Maduro and Joe Biden, which has had, as its cornerstone in this case, the former Colombian businessman Alex Saab, prosecuted for money laundering and who, according to journalistic investigations, acted as a frontman for Chavismo.

Saab has been at the center of a new prisoner exchange, the third one that has taken place since the establishment of a direct line of communication between the White House and the Palacio de Miraflores, as part of the new policy towards Venezuela by the Biden Administration. This strategy put an end to what Donald Trump had defined as a “maximum pressure” strategy to remove Maduro from power at the time.

After long hours of unconfirmed messages, the freedom of Saab was finally corroborated in the USA, who was originally detained in Cape Verde and, after a lengthy and laborious extradition process, was presented before the North American judiciary two years ago. In return, Maduro’s regime released two dozen political prisoners, as well as a dozen American citizens detained in Venezuela, some of whom were detained for political reasons.

However, Washington’s narrative framed this exchange within the negotiations between Caracas and Washington in view of presidential elections occurring in 2024, with the participation of opposition leader María Corina Machado, who was anointed through busy primary elections, although she is politically disqualified.

Last week, the candidate appeared before the Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas, and the USA immediately supported this decision, which was also framed in what has become known as the Doha agreements, due to the secret meetings held there weeks ago by Juan González, White House security advisor for the Western Hemisphere, and the president of the National Assembly, Jorge Rodríguez.

The topic of Saab was an organic trend this Wednesday on social media due to the different messages from Venezuelans who mainly expressed their astonishment and surprise, since the White House had insisted that since Saab was under judicial process, he would not be part of any exchange. There were also many messages of disappointment about what was described as Washington’s lack of commitment to the Venezuelan democratic cause, given that the priority, according to all that happened, seems to be rebuilding good ties with the Maduro regime and reactivating oil production.

“The feeling today is that the post-primary (opposition) momentum has been completely lost. The image of Saab in Venezuela is demoralizing, after so much time professing that there would be justice in his case,” commented political consultant Luis Peche Arteaga.

Saab was greeted on the steps of the plane that brought him to Venezuela by Cilia Flores, Maduro’s partner, and then transferred with honors to the gardens of the Palacio de Miraflores, where the Venezuelan leader gave him a warm welcome, after more than three years of his arrest.

Arrested in Cape Verde while refueling his private jet on his way to Iran to seal the purchase of gasoline destined for Venezuela, Saab also made lucrative deals with the importation of food from Mexico, which were distributed through the social control networks of Chavismo, known as CLAP (Local Committees for Food Production).

After being detained for more than a year in Cape Verde while his extradition to the USA was being decided, Saab finally set foot on U.S. soil on October 16, 2021.

Cape Verde, as a prelude to extradition to the USA, changed everything since before that, Chavismo denied its links with Saab. The entire Government of Venezuela was activated for the defense, the once emblematic attorney Baltasar Garzón was hired, graffiti was painted, and concerts were held within Venezuela, “troops” (as Chavismo calls them) were activated for social media campaigns. And it even came to light that Saab had a Venezuelan diplomatic passport.

Among many Venezuelans, after the release of Saab and the prior decision of the USA to practically nullify the sanctions on the oil and gas industry, as well as to partially free up mining exploitation, there is doubt about what else Washington would have to offer Chavismo in a negotiation.

“The outrage among some Venezuelans over the release of Alex Saab is understandable, especially since officials from the U.S. Government declared that a negotiation for his release was not being considered as he was subjected to a judicial process,” specifies Mariano de Alba, a lawyer in International Law and Crisis Group consultant.

Political scientist Pablo Quintero, for his part, believes that Chavismo ends 2023 with a positive balance. He summarizes it this way: “Juan Guaidó in Miami. Alex Saab in Caracas”. Precisely the former interim president, as recognized by some 60 countries in 2019, has ended up residing in Miami during this year, after the opposition actors themselves dismissed him from his responsibilities in the opposition leadership.

During Saab’s time of detention, it came to light that he had collaborated with the USA and that he had previously acted as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Beyond the role that Saab may now have within Venezuela, his return to the country injects Chavismo with a victorious narrative and reaps political benefits, as it negatively affects the opponents.

This Wednesday saw a downpour of criticism towards the mediation team of the opposition, in the dialogue that is being carried forward with the Government. Only, in reality, two simultaneous dialogue processes are taking place. The public one, with the signing of agreements in Barbados two months ago between the Government and opposition, and the secret framework of conversations between representatives of Maduro and Biden, the last chapter of which was in Doha, but which details are unknown.