Timothy Tracy, 35, a filmmaker and graduate of Georgetown University, went to Venezuela to make a film about the country’s searing political divide.
Now he’s been arrested, President Nicolás Maduro said in a speech in which he accused the American of instigating the unrest that has roiled the oil-rich country since its April 14 presidential election. Venezuela’s political opposition says the election was stolen through fraudulent voting.
“The gringo who financed the violent groups has been captured,” Maduro said Thursday in comments carried on state television. “I gave the order that he be detained immediately and passed over to the attorney general’s office.”
The arrest of Tracy, of Los Angeles, comes on the heels of accusations by Maduro about U.S.-inspired machinations designed to bring about his downfall.
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According to the National Electoral Council, Maduro, 50, narrowly won the election to succeed late President Hugo Chávez. Maduro has suggested the United States infected the charismatic leader with the cancer that killed him. He has accused the Obama administration of fomenting the protests that shook Venezuela after Maduro’s challenger, Henrique Capriles, 40, called for a recount after the election.
With Capriles saying the election was stolen and opponents demanding a transparent audit of the votes, the government has stepped up claims that the Obama administration is behind the country’s troubles as a preamble to an invasion.
Tracy’s friends in the United States say the budding filmmaker, who was arrested Wednesday at the Caracas airport, has become a scapegoat.
“Tim Tracy is not affiliated with any governmental intelligence agency — is not even remotely associated,” said Jesse Herman, a friend who studied at Georgetown with Tracy, an English graduate. “The whole thing is ridiculous.”
William Ostick, a State Department spokesman, said Friday that Tracy does not work for the U.S. government. U.S. officials in Caracas have sought access to Tracy, but the Venezuelan government has not responded, Ostick said.
Tracy, curious about Venezuela’s political situation, had decided to see what was happening for himself. In the few months he had lived in Caracas, he met and filmed Venezuelan students who form part of the country’s broad anti-Chávez movement, not an unusual activity for filmmakers or journalists.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.