By Devan Cole and Jennifer Hansler, CNN
The relative of two Americans freed this weekend in a prisoner swap with Venezuela tore into GOP Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday over his criticism of the exchange, blasting his comments as “unpatriotic and unhelpful” and questioning his support for the seven wrongfully detained US citizens.
“I find that those comments were extremely unhelpful and misinformed. He is — I’m disappointed that a leader in our country is perpetuating this myth that getting our people home actually puts Americans at risk,” Alexandra Forseth, the daughter of Alirio Zambrano and the niece of Jose Luis Zambrano, two of the seven released Americans, told CNN’s Alex Marquardt on “New Day.”
“And, you know, what I would ask Sen. Rubio is you’ve supported getting them home, you have done absolutely nothing for me or my family or most of these men, and any of the families can tell you that,” she continued. “And he even had a constituent from his state that was released, and I would ask, what did you do for his family? How have you’ve been supporting them?”
“I find his comments unpatriotic and unhelpful,” Forseth said.
On Sunday, Rubio questioned the decision to swap the seven wrongfully detained Americans for two Venezuelans imprisoned in the US for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the country, both nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores. The Florida senator warned that the trade “puts Americans all over the world in danger.”
“I wanted those people released as much as anybody, but every time you do this, now, others know, ‘I can take Americans, I can hold them until I need something as a bargaining chip,’ ” Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
“I think seven innocent American hostages in exchange for two convicted drug dealers, who happened to be the nephews of (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro, is a huge win for Maduro and, unfortunately, puts Americans all over the world now in danger,” Rubio said.
The Zambrano brothers, along with Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Jose Pereira, are five of the six American oil executives known as the “CITGO 6” arrested in Venezuela more than four years ago. Two Americans who had been detained there, including one of the CITGO 6, were released in March following the visit of two top US government officials to Caracas. The other Americans freed on Saturday are Matthew Heath, a Marine veteran, who was detained in September 2020, and Osman Khan, who had been detained since January 2022. All seven individuals were classified by the US government as wrongfully detained.
In August, Alirio Zambrano issued a handwritten plea to President Joe Biden to act decisively to free him and his fellow wrongful detainees, telling Biden, “I am afraid I won’t see my family ever again.”
“I don’t know how much longer we can wait; but I do know people that have died here, and I fear the same fate could befall any of us at any time,” he wrote in the letter, which is dated August 28.
His daughter said on “New Day” that learning about her relatives’ return was the “biggest relief and feeling of euphoria that I could ever describe.”
“It’s been quite a trial and tribulation, but I’m so thankful that we were able to get them home finally,” Forseth said.
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CNN’s Betsy Klein, Arlette Saenz and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.