While family members were on the phone with The New York Times, Mr. Vadell, 62, called them on another line to say he was being held at the Helicoide, a Venzeuelan prison known for its harsh conditions. His voice cracked, said his daughter, Cristina Vadell, as he asked them to make arrangements to send water and food, which the Venezuelan government does not supply.
“It’s disgusting to see how governments play and toy with people’s lives, as if they were gods or something, like they’re children fighting for a toy,” said Veronica Vadell, another daughter, who said the U.S. government should not have extradited Mr. Saab before ensuring their father’s safety. “Our dad’s fate is in the hands of the U.S. government and the Venezuelan government, and we can’t do anything about it.”
The extradition of Mr. Saab also threatened to derail the negotiations between Mr. Maduro and Venezuela’s political opposition, which has long been supported by the United States. The talks began in Mexico in September, and the opposition has hoped they will provide an opportunity to pressure Mr. Maduro into holding free and fair elections.
In an interview with The New York Times on Thursday, the head of Venezuela’s political opposition, Juan Guaidó, said he hoped the talks would push the government to play fair during regional elections set for next month, which would then serve as a “trampoline” to mobilize voters to push for a free presidential election in the coming years.
But the Venezuelan government immediately backed away from the talks on Saturday. In a statement condemning Mr. Saab’s arrest, the Maduro government said the move “threatens the good development of the negotiations.”
Mr. Saab’s lawyer, Jose Manuel Pinto Monteiro, claimed in a video sent to reporters that Mr. Saab had been “kidnapped” by the United States.
If Mr. Saab were to cooperate with American officials, he could help untangle Mr. Maduro’s economic web, aiding the authorities in bringing charges against other allies of the Venezuelan government.