Cody Weddle, a Venezuela-based freelance reporter, was released late Wednesday after spending 12 hours in custody — underscoring the ongoing political crisis in the South American nation.
Weddle, a 28-year-old Virginia native, was detained early Wednesday after Venezuela’s Military Counterintelligence, DGCIM, raided his home in Caracas. His assistant, Carlos Camacho, was also detained and their equipment seized, according to the National Union of Journalists, SNTP.
The news of Weddle’s arrest — at a time when U.S.-Venezuela relations are at an all-time low — rattled Washington.
Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott demanded Weddle’s release and the U.S. State Department accused Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro of preferring to “stifle the truth rather than face it. Being a journalist is not a crime.”
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Weddle has lived in Caracas since 2014 and has worked for South Florida’s WPLG Local 10, the Miami Herald, ABC, CBC and the Telegraph, among others. Early in his career he worked for Telesur, the Latin American television network that is largely financed by Venezuela.
Recently, he had been covering the return to Caracas of interim President Juan Guaidó, who is trying to unseat Nicolás Maduro. Maduro won reelection last year, although the results were widely condemned as neither free nor fair.
While the Maduro administration didn’t confirm or acknowledge Weddle’s detention, Guaidó did weigh in.
“We demand the release of U.S. journalist Cody Weddle, who was kidnapped by a regime that is usurping powers and tries, unsuccessfully, to hide what’s truly happening in our country,” he wrote on Twitter, shortly before news broke that Weddle had been freed.
Foro Penal, a human rights group, said Weddle was being taken to the airport and would be deported.
Espacio Publico, a Caracas-based media advocacy group, said it was highly irregular for Weddle to be detained by the military and not the police.
Reporting in Venezuela has become a high-risk endeavor as the Maduro regime often views the press as part of a right-wing destabilization plot.
Espacio Publico has records of at least 38 reporters being detained — most of them briefly — in January and February.
Seven journalists have also been deported this year.
Reacting to the news about Weddle, Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro said the pattern of “censorship and intimidation” in Venezuela must stop.
Last month, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and his team were detained for several hours at the presidential palace as they interviewed Maduro. They were then deported.
A German reporter, Billy Six, has been in Venezuelan custody since November, and Jesús Medina, a Venezuelan reporter who worked with DolarToday website, has been held at a military prison since August 2017.
The Miami Herald’s Latin America correspondent was detained for two days in 2013 and deported in 2016.
Weddle’s detention at a politically delicate time threatened to escalate U.S.-Venezuela tensions.
“A United States citizen has been detained and we expect him to be released immediately and if he isn’t, it’s most certainly going to impact U.S. policy towards Venezuela and towards the regime,” Rubio warned.
“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s an escalation if you’re going to go after American journalists,” Scott said. “I think the next step is, let’s try to figure out what the facts are.”
The circumstances surrounding Weddle’s detention remained unclear Wednesday night, and it was also unclear if he was going to be deported or allowed to continue working in the country.
Also on Wednesday, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said it was expelling German Ambassador Daniel Kriener after he, along with other diplomats, escorted Guaidó from the international airport Monday back to Caracas, amid fears Guaidó might be arrested.
Weddle’s last story was filed for WPLG about the return to Venezuela of Guaidó on Monday.