Cody Weddle, a U.S. Journalist, Is Arrested in Venezuela

Cody Weddle, a U.S. Journalist, Is Arrested in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — An American freelance journalist with legal residence in Venezuela was arrested on Wednesday along with his Venezuelan assistant by the country’s military counterintelligence service, the latest episode in an expanding crackdown on press freedom amid the country’s long-running political crisis.

The authorities held the reporter, Cody Weddle, until after nightfall, when they prepared to deport him, according to his mother, Sherry Garrett Weddle. The South Florida television network WPLG, one of Mr. Weddle’s most frequent freelance employers, said he was awaiting deportation at an airport outside the capital on Wednesday night.

Lawyers in Venezuela said that his assistant, Carlos Camacho, was released from police custody earlier in the evening.

Agents from the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence arrested Mr. Weddle and Mr. Camacho at their homes around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, according to Espacio Público, a human rights organization. It said the agents also confiscated equipment, identification documents and other material during the raids.

Carlos Correa, the director of Espacio Público, said the organization learned of Mr. Weddle’s arrest from his neighbors, who said he appeared to be in good physical condition when he was removed from his home. Mr. Correa said the order to arrest both men had been issued by a military tribunal.

Kimberly Breier, the United States assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said on Twitter earlier Wednesday that the State Department was aware of Mr. Weddle’s arrest and demanded his “immediate release, unharmed.”

Mr. Weddle and Mr. Camacho joined dozens of journalists, both local and foreign, who have been detained in recent weeks in Venezuela, which has been in the grip of political crisis since President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for a second term in January after an election widely viewed as undemocratic.

Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who also claims the presidency, called for Mr. Weddle to be released. Mr. Guaidó said on Twitter that Mr. Weddle had been “kidnapped” because the Maduro government “tries, without success, to hide the truth of what is happening in our country.”

The arrests came a week after the Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos was detained at the presidential palace after a confrontational interview during which he asked Mr. Maduro about the erosion of democracy and human rights in Venezuela, a once wealthy country whose economy has unraveled under Mr. Maduro’s rule.

“There are increasingly brazen tactics being used, and that speaks to the continued disregard on the part of Maduro and other Venezuelan state agencies for press freedom and the safety of journalists,” said Natalie Southwick, the Central and South America program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “There is a lack of respect for the rights of journalists and the work they are doing in the country.”

It has not been uncommon in recent years for foreign journalists to be arrested and deported for not having a visa that grants them permission to live and work in Venezuela, but that is not the case for Mr. Weddle. According to WPLG, he has permission to live and work in the country.

“It is our understanding that he is living and working in Venezuela legally and has been doing so for the past four years,” E. R. Bert Medina, the network’s president, said in a statement. “Cody has been dedicated and committed to telling the story in Venezuela to our viewers here in South Florida.”

In a brief message on Facebook, Mr. Weddle’s mother, Sherry Garrett Weddle, said her son had told her that he had a visa granting him residency in Venezuela for five years.

“I just want to know that my son is O.K.,” she wrote earlier Wednesday.

Ms. Southwick said the arrest and interrogation of a foreign journalist working with the proper permit raised the stakes of Mr. Weddle’s case and “sends a message to other journalists who are legally working in the country.”

“A lot of the retaliation we have seen in Venezuela has been against people that may not have had the right paperwork,” she said. “Certainly detaining and interrogating someone who is in Venezuela legally working as a journalist is a step up from that and is definitely worrying.”

Mr. Weddle, who speaks fluent Spanish, moved to Caracas in 2014 to work for Telesur, a television network funded primarily by the Venezuelan government that also received funding from leftist Latin American governments including Cuba and Bolivia.

He left the network in 2017 and began freelancing for less ideologically motivated news media organizations, primarily WPLG, which emphasizes coverage of Venezuela and Cuba for the large exile communities from those countries that live in its coverage area in Florida. Like many freelancers, he often reported, shot and edited his own stories.

Mr. Camacho is an economist who works as a producer and assistant for Mr. Weddle, Espacio Público said in a statement. The organization quoted a neighbor of Mr. Camacho’s, Julio Reyes, who said the man’s family had not been able to locate him since his arrest.

“After checking the entire house without finding anything illegal, they took him away,” Mr. Reyes told the group. “The order was from a military court.”

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