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US hostage envoy quietly traveled to Venezuela this week

<i>Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens
Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images
US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) — US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens quietly traveled to Venezuela this week, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

Carstens traveled to the capital city of Caracas for “discussions about the welfare and safety of US nationals wrongfully detained in Venezuela,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to advocate for the immediate and unconditional release of all wrongfully detained US nationals in Venezuela at every opportunity,” they said.

There are four Americans known to be detained in Venezuela: Eyvin Hernandez and Jerrel Kenemore, who have been declared wrongfully detained, and Luke Denman and Airan Berry.

The spokesperson said that “US government officials were able to conduct welfare visits with detained US nationals while in Caracas.”

The United States no longer has official relations with the government of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and does not have diplomats posted in the country, meaning that access to Americans there is extremely limited.

‘Signing his death warrant’

The family members of the detained Americans, all of whom have been detained more than a year, are increasingly worried about their loved ones.

“I may not be able to convince him or keep him going,” Jeana Tillery, Kenemore’s sister, told CNN Wednesday.

She said her brother feels that he has been forgotten, and she has “definitely noticed that his depression is much, much worse.” He has attempted suicide twice and is more than two weeks into a hunger strike to protest the way his case is being handled and his treatment at Caracas’ infamous detention center, the DGCIM, Tillery said.

She said her brother has bipolar disorder and has not been able to get proper medications, and that he also suffered from a traumatic brain injury.

Tillery told CNN that the US is “signing his death warrant” by not securing Kenemore’s release.

Carstens told CNN in an exclusive interview late November that the US has “an ongoing conversation with the other side” following the release of a number of other Americans from Venezuela.

In March 2022, Carstens brought home two Americans: Gustavo Cárdenas – one of the “Citgo 6,” and Cuban-US dual citizen Jorge Alberto Fernandez. However, another trip in June ended without a prisoner release.

At the beginning of October, the administration was able to free seven Americans – Jose Pereira, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano. Jose Luis Zambrano, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan – in a prisoner swap with the Maduro government.

Carstens last traveled to Venezuela in December, and a US official said that trip was also focused on checking on the Americans who remain imprisoned in Venezuela. Carstens was accompanied by US consular officials.

Although the Biden administration has engaged with the Maduro government on the prisoner issue, it continues to officially recognize the opposition in Venezuela. The US has loosened some sanctions against the Maduro government, however, announcing an easing of oil sanctions in November after the opposition and the Maduro government resumed stalled talks and reached an agreement on humanitarian relief.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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