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AP: US envoy secretly visited Venezuela on hostage mission

FILE - This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left to right, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. The oil executives have been granted a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 16, 202, before an appeals court, a rare decision by the judicial system in the South American country. (Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP File)

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Latin America correspondent Joshua Goodman and Washington-based national security reporter Eric Tucker combined sleuthing and great source reporting to break a story that the Biden administration was trying to keep secret: that the U.S. government’s top hostage negotiator was secretly visiting Venezuela as part of an ongoing effort to secure the release of jailed Americans, including American oil executives known as the Citgo 6.

The AP pair has followed the case since the 2017 detention of the oil executives. When Goodman learned that a U.S. government flight was traveling toward Venezuela, he flagged it to Tucker, who quickly confirmed with sources that the plane was carrying Roger Carstens, the U.S. government’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. They spent the next several days reporting the details of Carstens’ visit. Goodman pressed multiple sources to learn Carstens visited American detainees behind bars and had also met with aides to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Tucker,who has a history of reporting on hostage and detainee cases,then landed an exclusive interview with Carstens after he was safely out of Venezuela. The envoy shared first-hand details of his visit with the prisoners.

The result was a vivid tale of the first known face-to-face outreach with Venezuela by a senior U.S. official since at least 2019. It earned widespread attention from CNN,which gave AP prominent credit,and other major news outlets. The story was even bigger in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin and South America. And while others eventually reported their own stories, they did not get Carstens. His lone interview was with AP.

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