Venezuelan government defends detention of US nationals

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Venezuelan government has defended the detention of U.S. citizens, rejecting an earlier State Department statement marking the two-year imprisonment of a Navy veteran.

President Nicolás Maduro’s government said in a statement on Saturday that it would continue to enforce its laws and reiterated the “spaces and channels” open with the United States “to seek understanding on issues” relevant to their bilateral relations.

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

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 US citizens it considers wrongfully detained. in Venezuela.

At least 10 men, including five oil executives and three veterans, are being held in Venezuela. United Nations officials have long complained about the lack of independence of Venezuelan judges and prosecutors and the 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 US Marine corporal, was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela and charged with being a terrorist and spying for then US President Donald Trump. His family and supporters claim he is innocent.

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

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