The United States has condemned the arrest of an American journalist, Cody Weddle, who was seized by Venezuelan military intelligence in an early morning raid on his Caracas home.
Agents of DGCIM, the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence, detained Weddle and his Venezuelan assistant Carlos Camacho at around 8am local time on Wednesday, a Venezuelan press union said.
After being held for 12 hours at DGCIM’s headquarters, Weddle was taken to Caracas airport for deportation, while Camacho was released.
The arrest further stoked tensions between the government of Nicolas Maduro and the US, which along with more than 50 other countries has recognised National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
On Wednesday, the US State Department demanded Weddle be immediately released "unharmed", adding that Mr Maduro "prefers to stifle the truth rather than face it".
Weddle, a freelance journalist who has lived in Caracas since 2014, has contributed to The Daily Telegraph, with his last article published on February 20. He has also worked for the Miami Herald, ABC, CBC and South Florida TV station WPLG Local 10, among others.
Telemundo journalist is kidnapped for six hours and robbed by armed men while covering the detention of Univision journalist Jorge Ramos -> https://t.co/xKNuoGXOgE
— Cody Weddle (@coweddle) February 26, 2019
Witnesses to the raids said the pair had been arrested on orders signed by a military tribunal and accused of espionage and treason, the National Press Workers Union (SNTP) reported. Weddle’s computer and other work equipment were also seized.
US senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida expressed outrage at the detention, Mr Scott saying the US would “not stand for this intimidation”.
The director of the US-based Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said it was "very worrying", adding that the "desperate regime" of Mr Maduro was doing "the only thing it knows how to do: repress and censor".
Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, castigated the "oppressive usurper regime of Venezuela”, calling for an “end to the intimidation and censorship" of journalists in the country.
Venezuelan security forces have detained 49 reporters, some of them briefly, so far this year, according to Espacio Publico, a press monitoring organisation.
The group is investigating the circumstances of Weddle’s detention but had yet to receive any explanation from authorities, a representative told The Telegraph.
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Analysts warned that the arrest could draw a forceful response from the US, which has raised the prospect of military intervention and yesterday revoked 77 visas of individuals linked to the Maduro government.
"Given the current state of relations between the US and Venezuela, having military intelligence arrest a US citizen…. seems like unnecessary provocation", said Phil Gunsion of the NGO Crisis Group.
Further inflaming the international crisis, Venezuela yesterday ordered the German ambassador, Daniel Kriener, to leave the country within 48 hours, accusing him of “recurrent acts of interference" in the country’s internal affairs.
The move sets up a three-way diplomatic standoff between the Maduro regime, Mr Guaidó, and Berlin.
Heiko Maas, the German minister for foreign affairs, said Europe’s support for Mr Guaidó was "unbreakable" and said the decision would "escalate the situation".
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Mr Guaidó described the order as a "threat" against Germany and insisted Mr Kriener should stay in his post.
Mr Kriener was one of 13 ambassadors who went to Caracas’s airport to greet Mr Guaidó as he returned on Monday under threat of arrest, raising the prospect that the expulsion of other envoys could follow.
In a bid to entrench his leadership, Mr Guaidó has this week nominated his own envoys to several of the countries that recognise him, including to Germany, which has said it is studying the request.
He has also reached out to public sector workers, appealing them to abandon the government which has long demanded their unwavering support.