Family: No US access to man held in 'nightmare'

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Associated Press

Posted on May 6, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Updated Monday, May 6 at 8:37 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — U.S. diplomats have been given no access to a California man held in Venezuela for nearly two weeks in what his family on Monday called a "nightmare" that unfolded after he was accused of being a spy fomenting postelection unrest.

The family of Timothy Tracy, 35, told The Associated Press in a statement that "we hope that he is granted consular access very soon."

The U.S. State Department confirmed that diplomats have not been allowed to see Tracy, who is held by the Venezuelan intelligence service. It is standard practice for countries holding foreign citizens to allow diplomats to see them to confirm that they are being treated humanely, and help them negotiate the local court system.

Tracy's family says he is a filmmaker who had been making a documentary about Venezuelan politics for six months. Tracy's friends said he had been briefly detained by Venezuelan authorities twice before but decided to continue his work.

"We have been living in a nightmare," the family said in the emailed statement. "We have been in communication with Timmy and have been assured that he is being treated well."

The family did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

Venezuelan officials allege Tracy was working on behalf of U.S. intelligence and paid young protesters to participate in violent demonstrations against the ruling party, which narrowly won the April 14 presidential election. The opposition is contesting the results because it says President Nicolas Maduro won by fraud.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said that the accusations against Tracy are "ridiculous."

Venezuelan Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez reiterated the charges against Tracy an interview with a local television station Sunday, saying that "all his activity is what we in intelligence would call a front."

"When one wants to do intelligence work in another country — above all these big powers to do this kind of work and espionage — they often use a filmmaking, documentary-making, photography or journalism as a front," Rodriguez said.

Tensions have been running high in Venezuela since the election, with the opposition seeking regional support for its claims that the vote was stolen, and the government claiming its opponents are working with Washington and U.S.-allied nations to destabilize the socialist government and even assassinate Maduro.

The opposition is boycotting an audit of the vote that began Monday, saying it is designed by the government-controlled National Electoral Council not to turn up evidence supporting their claims.

Maduro is traveling to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil this week to try to rally support after directing angry criticism at Peru's foreign minister last week and accusing former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of being behind a plot to kill him.

After a brawl in the National Assembly last week in which a group of pro-government lawmakers and aides left at least two opposition legislators with broken facial bones, Peru's foreign minister called for tolerance and dialogue in Venezuela.

Maduro said Friday that the statement showed a "lack of respect" for Venezuelan democracy and announced that he was recalling Venezuela's ambassador for consultations

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Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mweissenstein

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