Venezuelan government defends detention of U.S. nationals

ARCHIVO - El presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro hace declaraciones durante una ceremonia con motivo del inicio del año judicial en la Corte Suprema en Caracas, Venezuela, el 22 de enero de 2021. (AP Foto/Matias Delacroix, Archivo)
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Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Venezuelan government defended the detention of United States citizens, rejecting an earlier statement from the Department of State marking the two-year confinement of a Marine veteran.

The government of President Nicolás Maduro said in a statement late Saturday it will continue to enforce its laws and reiterated the “spaces and channels” opened with the U.S. “in search of understanding on issues” relevant to their bilateral relationship.

“It is unfortunate that the authorities of the United States insist on their claim to confer an unacceptable immunity or letter of marque to their nationals, in absolute disregard for the sovereignty and self-determination of peoples,” according to the statement.

The government’s comment came a day after the State Department said it would continue to press Maduro “for the immediate and unconditional release” of Matthew Heath and other U.S. citizens it considers wrongfully detained in Venezuela.

At least 10 men, including five oil executives and three veterans, are detained in Venezuela. United Nations officials have long complained about the lack of independence of Venezuelan judges and prosecutors and about conditions at the facility where several Americans are being held.

In March, Maduro’s government freed two Americans following a surprise trip to Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, by senior White House and State Department officials. A subsequent trip in June did not result in the release of any detainees.

The State Department issued an advisory in July warning Americans to avoid all travel to Venezuela due to the risk of wrongful detentions and threats from illegal armed groups, especially along the country’s porous borders.

Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal, was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela and accused of being a terrorist and spying for then-U.S. President Donald Trump. His family and supporters maintain that he is innocent.

The State Department’s Friday statement said Heath was arrested on “specious charges.” His trial is ongoing.