Free Venezuelan Special Envoy Alex Saab, Kidnapped by the U.S. Government

Peace Advocate November 2021

Free Alex Saab protest, October 22,2021, Northampton
Free Alex Saab protest, October 22,2021, Northampton

by Yoav Elinevsky

Western Massachusetts activists held a standout October 22 outside the office of Congressman McGovern in Northampton, to protest the kidnapping and jailing in the US of Colombian citizen and Venezuelan special envoy Alex Saab in violation of international law.

For nearly a year and a half, Saab had been imprisoned on the small island nation of Cabo Verde, 400 miles off the northwestern coast of Africa in the Atlantic. Saab was detained June 12, 2020, when the private plane he was traveling on from Venezuela to Iran made a fuel stop on the Cape Verdean island of Sal. He was on his way to Iran to secure deliveries of food and fuel for Venezuela, which is enduring crippling sanctions that have led to severe shortages of food, fuel, and medicine and to the death of tens of thousands of Venezuelans.

The kidnapping of Saab by the United States is alarming because our government has assumed the power to arrest foreign citizens anywhere in the world for breaking U.S.-imposed sanctions on other countries. This type of action undermines the rule of law and international norms.

On June 8, 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a decision for preliminary measures demanding that the extradition of Saab be suspended and that Saab, who is suffering from cancer, be given the necessary medical attention that he has been denied in Cabo Verde. On September 28, the African Bar Association issued a statement demanding “the immediate and unconditional release of Ambassador Alex Saab.”

In spite of those actions, and of the overwhelming opposition to Saab’s extradition amongst the citizenry of Cabo Verde, the Constitutional Court of Cabo Verde approved the extradition of Saab to the United States in September of this year.

Saab’s extradition case is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which is to decide whether the United States had proper cause to extradite Saab under U.S. and international law. But U.S. authorities, instead of waiting for the 11th Circuit to decide the merits of the case–a case that they would likely lose–kidnapped Saab on October 16, flying him out of Cabo Verde to the United States without court sanction.  It is no coincidence that this kidnapping took place the day before presidential elections in Cabo Verde, which brought to power a new leader opposed to Washington’s mistreatment of Saab.

Alex Saab is now in a federal prison in Miami, which is a flagrant violation of both international and U.S. domestic law. In addition, this U.S. action has already had negative international repercussions, with the government of Venezuela suspending scheduled talks with the opposition in response.

We demand that Alex Saab be freed and allowed to return to his family. We call on our government to stop imposing sanctions and spending taxpayers money on such criminal acts the world over.

Delivering humanitarian aid is not a crime!  Killer sanctions are a crime!

— Yoav Elinevsky chairs MAPA’s Latin America/ Caribbean Working Group and serves on the board of directors.  He lives in Amherst