Venezuela Releases Imprisoned U.S. Filmmaker
Helmer Tim Tracy had been charged with espionage
JUNE 5, 2013 | 11:08AM PM
Venezuela has expelled U.S. docu filmmaker Tim Tracy, who was arrested nearly two months for alleged espionage. Venezuelan interior minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres tweeted the news this morning: “Gringo Timothy Hallet Tracy, who was captured spying in our country, has been expelled from national territory.”
“I’m so pleased that his ordeal has ended,” said Venezuela Awareness Foundation human rights director Patricia Andrade, who sounded the alarm about Tracy’s transfer to the notorious El Rodeo prison last week. Andrade confirmed that Tracy had gone through Miami airport en route home. He had been slated to attend a hearing June 11 in Caracas to decide his fate.
Tracy’s release and expulsion came just before a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua today. “They probably didn’t want any issues clouding their meeting,” said Andrade. Jaua was scheduled to meet Kerry during the Organization of American States General Assembly in Guatemala, making it the first ministerial powwow between the two countries since the April 14 elections, which brought Hugo Chavez heir-apparent Nicolas Maduro to power.
Tracy was detained late April while attempting to depart from Caracas Airport. He was accused of funding opposition groups to foment violence. Videos of the documentary he had been working on about the political situation in Venezuela were also seized.
Tracy was escorted to the airport after prosecutors failed to find evidence for the case against him. His imprisonment had unleashed a wave of petitions signed by thousands of sympathizers from Venezuela and elsewhere.
His previous work experience in docus includes Discovery Channel’s “Homeland Security,” about security on the Northern Border.
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A U.S. filmmaker jailed for alleged espionage in Venezuela was expelled from the country and returning to the United States on Wednesday in a gesture that could signal a thaw in tense relations between the two countries.
Timothy Tracy’s release was secured with the help of former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, who has long worked to improve often strained U.S.-Venezuelan ties and was hired by Tracy’s family as an attorney in the case.
“He’s been informally advising us since pretty much the onset and we retained him last week,” Tracy’s sister, Tiffany Klaasen, said of Delahunt, a member of the U.S. delegation at the March funeral ofVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Both she and Delahunt also credited the U.S. State Department.
Tracy’s expulsion came just as Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on the sidelines of a regional summit in Guatemala to discuss strained relations between the two countries, which have been without ambassadors since 2010.
Delahunt acknowledged the coincidence of Tracy’s release but said “no conditions” were set by Kerry for the meeting with Jaua.
He said he had intervened on Tracy’s behalf with officials in Venezuela — who he said did not include President Nicolas Maduro — but “I want to keep those discussions private.”
“On both sides there is a desire to have an improvement in the relationship based upon respect, and that’s what’s important,” Delahunt said, suggesting it might help that Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, met Maduro a decade ago when Delahunt took a delegation of Venezuelans including Maduro on a trip to his district in Cape Cod.
The trip was part of efforts by the so-called “Grupo de Boston” in 2002-2003 to salve internal tensions in the socialist-run South American country after a failed coup against Chavez.
Tracy’s expulson was tweeted Wednesday morning by Venezuela’s interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez, who described Tracy as having been “captured doing espionage in our country.”
Family and friends say the 35-year-old Hollywood producer and actor had been in the country since October making a documentary about Venezuelan politics when he was arrested on April 24 at Caracas’ airport as he tried to leave the country to attend his father’s 80th birthday in suburban Detroit.
U.S. President Barack Obama had deemed “ridiculous” allegations by Venezuela that he was a spy. Friends said Tracy hardly spoke Spanish and had been very open about his work as he met with Venezuelans on both sides of the country’s deep political divide. Tracy’s previous production work had included script consulting on a film about barbershop quartets.
U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been especially tense in recent months. Maduro expelled two U.S. military attaches in March the same day Chavez died, accusing them of trying to foment instability, and Tracy’s arrest came amid domestic political turmoil over the opposition candidate’s claim that Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor, stole April 14 elections.
The Obama administration has backed opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’ call for a full recount.
Klaasen said the family spoke frequently to Tracy while he was held.
“He was treated very well,” she said. “I was never concerned for his safety.”
Klaasen said that even after Tracy was transferred last week to a notoriously unruly prison, El Rodeo, the family was assured he was in no danger.
She said she understood from Tracy’s lawyer in Caracas that he was isolated in El Rodeo in a cellblock for foreigners.
A colleague of Tracy’s in Los Angeles, Aengus James, said he would be arriving there Wednesday afternoon.