Ecuador pardons four executives from Venezuela’s oil industry to ease tensions

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno on Thursday pardoned four opposition oil executives serving time in Venezuela — a day after Venezuela’s Vice President and energy minister said they should be freed to “secure the resumption of the process of the restitution of the Venezuelan oil industry.”

The four executives, Alfredo Ortiz, Ramon Jaramillo, Carlos Ortega and Antonio Lorenzo, were convicted in 2016 on corruption charges in what was seen as part of a rogue effort to reverse President Nicolas Maduro’s consolidation of power. One of the executives, Ortiz, was jailed in Guatemala. Ortega is in jail in Venezuela. The remaining two remain in Ecuador — and remain ensnared in a war of words between the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela.

Jaramillo, released on Thursday, is accused of masterminding an alleged bribery network that funneled tens of millions of dollars of bribes to Maduro’s government. Ortega is accused of using the corruption schemes to obtain concession agreements to develop some of Venezuela’s most promising oil reserves, including the giant Orinoco Belt.

Lorenzo’s release in November, 2015, had been the beginning of an unprecedented push from Ecuador’s government to free the executives and cast Venezuela as an outlaw country.

Shortly after the diplomats walked out of the Venezuela-Ecuador border in Merida, the four executives were taken to Panama, where Hernandez said they would be tried in Quito. Lopez Campo, the Ecuadorian consul general in Venezuela, said that Lopez had made one request to be arrested in Ecuador, but that he refused to be, saying the four executives would not leave until Venezuela freed them.

As in other Latin American governments, Ecuador has a diplomatic toehold in Venezuela, as an alternative to the U.S.

The leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, traveled to New York on Monday, the eve of the United Nations General Assembly.

The American Alliance’s Honduras on the Edge campaign has documented how Maduro has left the frontlines of Venezuela’s economic and political crisis to allies in China, Russia and Turkey.

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