By Lucia Suarez Sang
Published March 06, 2019
An American reporter based in Caracas, who earlier this week covered opposition leader Juan Guaido's "triumphant" return to Venezuela, has been detained by government officials after an early morning raid Wednesday, reports said.
Cody Weddle, a 29-year-old Virginia native who has been living in the Venezuelan capital since 2014, is a freelance reporter who has worked for multiple news stations and newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Florida’s WPLG Local 10 and ABC.
In a tweet, the Venezuelan Union of Journalists (SNTP) said the country’s counterintelligence military raided Weddle’s home, detaining him and his colleague Carlos Camacho. The team’s equipment was also seized.
The U.S. Department of State said Wednesday that it was “aware of and deeply concerned” by the reports of Weddle’s detainment.
“Being a journalist is not a crime. We demand the journalist’s immediate release, unharmed,” the statement, released by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier on Twitter, said in part.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott tweeted: “Completely unacceptable for @NicolasMaduro and his thugs to detain @WPLGLocal10’s Cody Weddle for reporting on the successful return of the legitimate Venezuelan President @jguaido. He must be released immediately and the U.S. will not stand for this kind of intimidation!”
According to Local 10, Weddle last made contact with station employees on Tuesday afternoon.
"Attempts by Local 10 management to reach Weddle have proven unsuccessful. His last contact with station employees came on Tuesday afternoon during the Local 10 News," the station said in a statement.
Weddle's last on-air report was on Monday, detailing opposition leader Juan Guaido’s return to the South American country after defying a travel ban.
In a tweet, Weddle had called Guaido’s return “triumphant.”
"We are working through various channels to get as much information as we can and to see that Cody is released," said WPLG President & CEO E. R. Bert Medina said in a statement. "Cody has been dedicated and committed to telling the story in Venezuela to our viewers here in South Florida. The arrest of a journalist doing his job is outrageous and unacceptable."
Sen. Marco Rubio also spoke out on Weddle’s disappearance, calling for his safe return.
Meanwhile, New York-based lawyer Eva Golinger, a longtime supporter of former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, expressed concern over Weddle's detainment.
"If true, this is extremely problematic and a very dangerous move for the Maduro government to make. Trump is waiting for any excuse to intervene." Golinger wrote in a tweet.
Weddle's detainment by Venezuelan officials comes just days after Univision journalist Jorge Ramos and his team were briefly detained after they interviewed the disputed president Nicolas Maduro.
According to the network, the socialist leader "didn't like the questions" he was being asked and "became upset with the lines of questioning and ordered the seizure of the video and Univision equipment, including TV and phones, as well as the detention of the journalists."
Venezuela has been thrust into uncharted political waters after Guaido, 35, proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela in January following contentious presidential elections. The United States and about 50 other countries recognize the leader of the National Assembly as the rightful leader.
Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term in January, has remained steadfast in his right to rule the country which is the midst of a humanitarian crisis. He has said he is the target of a U.S.-backed coup plot.
Before news of Weddle's detainment broke, U.S. National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton reiterated the United State's support for a democratic transition of power in Venezuela led by Guaido and that the Trump administration is "pursuing several new diplomatic and economic incentives in support of that transition."
"The United States is putting foreign financial institutions on notice that they will face sanctions for being involved in facilitating illegitimate transactions that benefit Nicolas Maduro and his corrupt network," he said in a statement. "We will not allow Maduro to steal the wealth of the Venezuelan people."
Also on Wednesday, Maduro's government gave German Ambassador Daniel Kriener 48 hours to leave the country after he expressed support for Guaido. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted a statement saying Kriener interfered in Venezuela's internal affairs and allied himself with "extremist sectors" of the opposition.
Venezuela considers it unacceptable that a foreign diplomat would take on "a public role more appropriate to that of a political leader," the statement said.