By Mayela Armas and Vivian Sequera
CARACAS (Reuters) -Five people jailed in Venezuela, including well-known opposition figures, have been released, the opposition said around midnight on Thursday, following a deal with the government of President Nicolas Maduro and Washington's demand that certain prisoners be freed.
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration on Wednesday broadly eased Trump-era sanctions on the Venezuelan oil and gas industry in response to an election deal between the Venezuelan government and opposition.
Washington has given Maduro until the end of November to begin lifting bans on opposition presidential candidates and start releasing political prisoners and "wrongfully detained" Americans, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.
Venezuela's government did not immediately confirm a list of names posted on social media by Gerardo Blyde, the opposition's head negotiator in the talks with the government.
"Antony Blinken and his advisor Juan Gonzalez, when they signalled what they signalled, express a huge ignorance about how the legal order in the Bolivarian Republic (of Venezuela) works," Jorge Rodriguez, the head of Venezuela's team at the opposition talks, said on state television on Thursday, though he did not specify which Blinken comment he was referring to.
Journalist Roland Carreno of the opposition party Popular Will, who had been held in prison, former legislator Juan Requesens of the Justice First party, who was kept under house arrest, and three others were released in the middle of the night, Blyde said.
Blyde posted a picture of himself with Carreno, which he said was taken in the capital Caracas.
Maduro's government and the opposition reached an agreement on Tuesday for the 2024 presidential election to be internationally monitored and held in the second half of the year.
But the deal stopped short of agreeing to reinstate opposition candidates who have been barred from public office - including Maria Corina Machado, the front-runner in a Sunday primary where the opposition is set to choose its candidate.
A senior State Department official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the U.S. would be prepared to reverse sanctions relief measures unless Maduro lifts the bans and frees wrongfully detained Americans.
Three U.S. citizens are still wrongfully detained in Venezuela, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols said on Thursday.
The three men are Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore and Joseph Ryan Cristella, Nichols said.
Hernandez, a Los Angeles public defender, and Kenemore, a Texas computer programmer, were arrested within days of each other in early 2022. They have been held since then on charges of illegally entering Venezuela from Colombia.
Cristella was taken into custody in September 2022 after crossing the border from Colombia.
The families of all three have denied they were involved in any wrongdoing.
The eased sanctions mean Venezuela will be able to engage in contracts with international energy firms and that U.S. and European companies will have more access to Venezuelan crude and natural gas, Nichols added.
The U.S. is not considering a change in its diplomatic relations with Venezuela until that country's democratic transition is more advanced, Nichols added.
A U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday he expects movement in the near term on releases of wrongfully detained Americans.
For years the opposition has urged the government to free over 200 people that human rights organization Foro Penal considers political prisoners.
Several recent legal moves - including the conviction of six protesters on conspiracy charges - were seen by the opposition and civil rights groups as an effort to scare potential activists ahead of the election.
Carreno was on trial on charges of conspiracy and financing terrorism while Requesens was under investigation for the explosion of two drones at a 2018 event attended by Maduro.
(Reporting by Mayela Armas, Vivian Sequera, Matt Spetalnick and Marianna Parraga; Writing by Natalia Siniawski and Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Inti Landauro, Deborah Kyvrikosaios, Barbara Lewis, Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and Rod Nickel)