A U.S. man held in Venezuela on suspicion of espionage was playing the part of a documentary filmmaker to penetrate the government’s circle of supporters, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said today.
Timothy Tracy, 35, was arrested at Caracas’s airport while leaving the country and charged April 27 with conspiracy, use of false documents and association with delinquency. While the Venezuelan government says he was financing opposition groups to generate violence following a contested April 14 election, his lawyer said he was making a documentary about political divisions in Venezuela.
“When you want to do intelligence work in another country, like all of those big intelligence agencies that do espionage work, you use a facade of being a filmmaker, a photographer or journalist because that way you can enter anywhere,” Rodriguez said today in an interview on Caracas-based broadcaster Televen. Tracy had a relationship with opposition groups that “went beyond that which a journalist or documentary maker could have and which is typical of experts in clandestine operations.”
Tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. have escalated since the death of Hugo Chavez triggered an emergency election in which his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro was declared the winner with a 1.49 percentage point margin. Opposition challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski contested the result before the Supreme Court, claiming fraud. Maduro said yesterday that U.S. President Barack Obama is directly financing violent opposition groups in a bid to generate a “war of dogs” that would justify an intervention in South America’s largest oil producer.
Rodriguez said Venezuelan authorities have evidence including 500 videos shot by Tracy and e-mail correspondence he had with opposition groups in which they talk of engendering violence in the country.
The U.S. rejects allegations that it’s trying to destabilize Venezuela while believing a full recount of votes would alleviate doubts about the electoral process, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in an e-mail. The Venezuelan government hasn’t granted U.S. consular access to Tracy, he said.
“The prudent and essential approach now is to undertake the recount and the review of alleged irregularities in a prompt, transparent, and inclusive manner, in order to assure the Venezuelan people that their democratic aspirations are being met,” Ventrell said.
The margin of victory in the election has plunged the country into a political crisis, with Maduro accusing Capriles of trying to orchestrate a coup after his supporters took to the streets in the days following the election to demand a recount of votes. State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said the protests left nine government supporters dead and dozens of health centers damaged by acts of vandalism.
Capriles says the government has become increasingly authoritarian, highlighting how opposition lawmakers were left with bloodied faces and fractured noses in brawl in the National Assembly after they staged a protest against the chamber’s President Diosdado Cabello for withholding their salaries and denying them the right to speak in parliament until they recognize Maduro as president.
Obama, who visited Mexico and Costa Rica this week, said in an interview on the Coral Gables, Florida-based Spanish-- language television station Univision on May 3 that “the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdown on the opposition.” Human rights, democracy, freedom of speech and assembly in Venezuela “have not been fully observed post-election,” he said.
Maduro’s predecessor Chavez frequently clashed with the U.S. for what he said was its “imperialist” attitude to Latin America and riled Washington by forging alliances with states such as Iran, Syria and Libya. The U.S. imposed sanctions on state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA in 2011 for defying a U.S. ban and selling at least two cargoes of gasoline additive to Iran.
Hours before announcing Chavez’s death from cancer March 5, Maduro expelled two U.S. officials he accused of meeting with Venezuelan military officers in a bid to destabilize the nation. The countries cast out each other’s diplomatic envoys after Chavez rejected the U.S. ambassadorial nominee to Venezuela, Larry Palmer, because he told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in July 2010 that the Chavez government has “clear ties” to terrorist groups.
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