The family of a man from California is pleading for his release after he was wrongfully arrested in Venezuela and held for ransom. The arrest of Savoi Wright, a 38-year-old businessman, occurred just days after the Biden administration eased oil sanctions on the socialist-run government. Wright’s family is desperate for him to be returned home, but they have little information about his arrest. No criminal charges have been filed, he has been denied access to a lawyer, and the Venezuelan government has not disclosed his whereabouts.
Wright’s arrest has further strained the already fragile relationship between the United States and Nicolás Maduro’s government. Critics argue that this incident should lead to a reinstatement of sanctions. However, all the family wants is for Wright to be released and brought back home. His mother, Erin Stewart, described the situation as a nightmare.
Wright is now one of at least seven U.S. citizens imprisoned in Venezuela. His arrest is significant because it came shortly after President Joe Biden rolled back oil sanctions and an agreement was reached between Maduro’s government and its opponents to hold elections next year. However, Maduro seemed to disregard the agreement when the nation’s Supreme Court, which is filled with loyalists, suspended the results of an opposition-run primary.
The Biden administration has stated that it is prepared to reinstate sanctions if Maduro fails to fulfill his commitments, including the release of political prisoners and wrongfully detained U.S. citizens by the end of November. Former Trump administration officials argue that Wright’s arrest is evidence of Maduro’s bad faith.
The State Department has repeatedly warned U.S. citizens not to travel to Venezuela due to the risk of kidnapping and extortion. Criminal groups, sometimes in collaboration with government security forces, target unsuspecting individuals online or in neighboring countries. Wright is only the second U.S. citizen detained since Venezuela freed five oil executives from a Houston-based company and two other Americans in exchange for the release of two nephews of Maduro’s wife.
Wright, a 6-foot-10-inch Berkeley native and graduate of Loyola Marymount University, has worked remotely as a mortgage loan officer while dividing his time between Oakland, Miami, and South America for over a decade. His family describes him as a gentle giant who is greatly loved.
Wright’s mother has only spoken to him once since his arrest, after his family paid a hefty ransom to his captors. Wright recounted being stopped by police in a park with a woman who had drugs. His family suspects a set-up. Although police ruled out any criminal wrongdoing, they discovered that Wright had no stamp in his passport and handed him over to immigration authorities for deportation. However, it is unclear what happened next.
Wright’s family fears that he is being held in a former textile factory-turned detention center run by Venezuela’s military counterintelligence. Numerous former political prisoners have reported being tortured and abused in the facility’s basement. Wright’s health is also a concern due to severe food allergies.
The family is speaking out because they believe the U.S. government has not done enough to secure Wright’s release. They have reached out to the FBI and the State Department, but with limited diplomatic tools at their disposal, the government’s ability to help is limited. The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela has been closed since 2019.
The State Department has not responded to questions about whether they have raised Wright’s detention with Maduro’s government. Wright’s sister, Moizeé Stewart, expressed disappointment in the lack of assistance from the U.S. government and the feeling of helplessness in such a dire situation.