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Free Alex Saab

KEN LIVINGSTONE writes of the case of the illegally detained Venezuelan diplomat now facing a possible 20-year jail sentence in the US

THE imprisonment of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab in Florida since October 2021 exemplifies the US’s vicious assault on Venezuela and its disregard for international law.

According to Venezuelan government sources, Saab was arrested at a refuelling stop in Cape Verde in June 2020 by order of the US while he was carrying out official duties as a Venezuelan special envoy. This serious violation of international law was part of the drive by president Trump to make its illegal coercive sanctions against Venezuela bite even harder.

At the time of his arrest, a few months into the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Venezuelan government argues Saab was flying to Iran on a mission to obtain food, medical supplies and other essential items for the people of Venezuela, to alleviate the increasingly harsh impacts of the US blockade against his country.

This would mean that Saab was engaged in totally legal and legitimate activities. But since 2015, the US government has illegally imposed a series of crushing economic and trade sanctions on Venezuela, including an oil embargo, a blanket ban on all dealings with the country, secondary sanctions against foreign companies dealing with Venezuela and freezing or seizing a number of Venezuelan assets abroad, such as the Citgo corporation in the US.

All told, these coercive measures have deprived Venezuela of upwards of $100 billion, primarily through lost revenues from its oil exports.  

As the blockade has tightened, the impact on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, particularly the poor, the sick and the elderly, has become devastating, with far-reaching effects. The Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research calculated they led to more than 40,000 deaths in 2017-18 alone.

Saab’s arrest and subsequent treatment can therefore be seen as part of a drive by the US to achieve regime change in Venezuela and oust elected President Nicolas Maduro. Former US defence secretary Mark Esper explained Saab’s arrest thus: “Access to him could really help explain how Maduro and his regime worked [...] It was important to get custody of him.  

“This could provide a real roadmap for the US government to unravel the Venezuelan government’s illicit plans and bring them to justice.”  

The US’s cavalier approach to international law has created a trail of illegitimate actions over Saab’s arrest and subsequent treatment.  

For example, Saab’s supporters argue that no due process of any kind was followed in his detention. The Cape Verde authorities compounded this failing by completely ignoring, twice, the verdict of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, of which Cape Verde is a member and whose rulings are mandatory, to immediately and unconditionally release Saab from detention.

Furthermore, it is argued that no satisfactory answer has been given by the Cape Verde authorities to the charge that Saab was subjected to physical torture seeking to extract a confession that would falsely blame the Venezuelan government for conducting illegal activities.  

Moreover, although suffering from cancer he was denied access to treatment until September 2021. Despite the UN Human Rights Committee intervening and twice officially demanding access to specialised medical attention for Saab, it took the Cape Verde courts nearly a year to permit that.  

Heavy political pressure by the US also seemingly succeeded in securing Saab’s extradition to face criminal charges in the US, despite the domestic judicial process being incomplete and there being no extradition treaty between Cape Verde and the US.  

Saab’s wife, Camila Fabri, said recently: “The kidnapping of Alex Saab is part of an attack against Venezuela and seeks to teach a lesson against anyone who has the courage to defend their country’s sovereignty.”  

But the US’s case against Saab has suffered setbacks. He was originally charged with seven counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy, but in in November 2021, a Miami judge dropped seven of these eight counts, leaving a sole charge of conspiracy to launder money, which could result in a 20-year sentence.  

The latest setback is that the Miami court has ordered the US Department of Justice to disclose a range of materials that Saab’s defence team believe will prove that he has diplomatic status and therefore immunity from prosecution. The hearing for this will be on December 12.

Given that the US is resolutely refusing to consider Alex Saab for a prisoner exchange deal, the international campaign to demand the release of Saab will continue.

Follow Ken on Twitter @Ken4London and Facebook @KenLivingstoneOfficial.

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