U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the recent arrest of filmmaker Timothy Tracy who was accused of conspiring against the Venezuelan government.
“The idea that this individual is a spy is ridiculous,” said Obama during an interview with U.S. Spanish-language network Telemundo that first aired on Sunday.
“This U.S. citizen…should be treated like any other U.S. citizen who has been involved in a legal matter in a foreign country,” Obama added regarding Tracy who was accused of acting as a secret “intelligence operative.”
In a prior interview with Univision, Obama claimed that human rights, democracy, freedom of speech and assembly in Venezuela “have not been fully observed” since Nicolás Maduro was declared winner of the country’s highly contested April 14th election.
Several senior Venezuelan officials responded harshly to Obama’s remarks such as Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres who claimed to have video and e-mail evidence of Tracy meeting with opposition activists and plotting with student protesters.
"When you want to do intelligence work in another country, all those big powers who do this type of spying, they often use the facade of a filmmaker, documentary-maker, photographer or journalist," said Rodriguez Torres who also alleged that Venezuelan intelligence had been tracking Tracy for the past few months.
Maduro, meanwhile, called Obama "the grand chief of devils" and issued a formal note of protest.
Friends and family of the thirty-five-year old Tracy have defended him as a documentarian interested in showing both sides of Venezuela’s deep political divide. He also received support from a group of Venezuelan filmmakers who “urged the government to show maximum transparency and objectivity in his case.”
Diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. had been uneasy during the fifteen year Chávez regime. Tensions continued in the weeks since Maduro was elected as president as the U.S. has yet to recognize him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
Obama wasn’t the only political figure from the Americas criticized by Maduro over the weekend:
Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe says he will take Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
Mr. Maduro's accusation that Mr. Uribe had plotted to assassinate him had put the Colombian's life at risk, his lawyer said.
Mr. Uribe's lawyer said he also wanted a libel investigation in Colombia.
Mr. Maduro also implied Mr. Uribe could have been involved in the killing of a Venezuelan journalist.
The Venezuelan leader said on Friday he had evidence that right-wing Venezuelan politicians were involved in a plot masterminded by Mr. Uribe.
Current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted earlier today, “The dignity of former presidents is best defended through diplomatic channels, not through screaming and public insults.”
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles filed a lawsuit last week with the country’s Supreme Court contesting the results of last month’s election that was officially won by Maduro by a 1.49% margin.
Video Source– CNN (Video uploaded on April 27, 2013).
Online Sources – El Universal; Bloomberg; El Tiempo; El Nacional; BBC News; The Latin Americanist; USA TODAY