Editor’s Note: After this story was published, U.S. journalist Cody Weddle was released by Venezuelan authorities after several hours in custody. He told Local 10 News, where he works, that authorities told him he was being deported back to the U.S. His assistant, Venezuelan citizen Carlos Camacho, was also released.
“We’re all worried sick about him and desperately trying to find out anything about his whereabouts or condition. Just please spread awareness, spread the word of his arrest, you know that this could have been any of us and as a freelancer Cody is that much more vulnerable.”
Andrea Torres is a reporter for Local 10, a South Florida news outlet, and a few hours ago she found out that her colleague, Cody Weddle, a U.S. citizen, had been arrested in downtown Caracas.
Early Wednesday morning, Weddle’s apartment was raided by Venezuelan government forces. Weddle, 29, was reporting on the ongoing political crisis for Local 10 and filing stories for several publications on human rights abuses committed by the government of Nicolás Maduro.
Last month, for instance, Weddle published an exposé in the British newspaper The Telegraph with the headline, “'The people who killed him wore uniforms': Inside the secret police squads eliminating Maduro's enemies in Venezuela.”
According to witnesses in Weddle’s Altamira building, a team of uniformed men entered the apartment and arrested both Weddle and his Venezuelan colleague Carlos Camacho. The same witnesses claim that the apartment was tossed and the team’s equipment and passports confiscated before Weddle and Camacho were taken away.
Florangel Manzo, 49, the president of the condominium board at Weddle’s building, told The Washington Post, “I was heading out to my office this morning when I saw the men and asked them for explanations. They showed me an order to raid apartment 64, which belongs to that foreign journalist.” They told her, she said, that the order came from a military tribunal and Weddle was accused of “betraying the homeland.”
It is notable that Cody Weddle is a former Venezuelan government employee. He previously reported for teleSUR, a state-sponsored TV station based in Caracas. Since leaving the government-friendly outlet he has angered his former ally by unmasking it through hard-hitting reporting.
Roman Camacho, one of the most respected journalists in Caracas (and not a relation of Carlos), tells me that the arrest of Cody Weddle can be viewed as an unequivocal message to all journalists working within the country.
“You and I both know that only the brave can do this job here in Venezuela. This is one of the riskiest places you could be a journalist and we are constantly threatened and persecuted by the government and its supporters. We have to be extremely vigilant and there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t fear repercussions.”
Roman knows what he’s talking about. In 2017 he was covering the massive protests when he was targeted by the government had tear gas shot directly into his leg, breaking it in several places. Once he got out of the hospital he kept reporting, but nowadays he has to be more careful. Roman works out of his apartment, using social media and the sources of the street to get the truth out and is constantly watchful of potential threats from everyone from SEBIN (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional) to the military and the colectivos.
“We are hunted, by everyone, and Cody getting arrested is not a frantic move by the government but a statement to us all. They are coming for us, and not even former allies are safe.”
No one knows what will happen now with Carlos Camacho and Weddle. All that is known is that they have been arrested and, according to Venezuela’s journalist syndicate, taken to the DGCIM, the military counterintelligence agency.
Attorneys with Espacio Publico, a human rights NGO, said late Wednesday that they think the case is going to be similar to German reporter Billy Six, 31, who was arrested by the same agency in Venezuela last November on charges of espionage and rebellion and still remains in custody.
The arrest of Cody Weddle is a clear provocation on Maduro’s part, as the arrest of U.S. journalist during these tense times could trigger a major escalation of the hostilities between the Trump administration and the Maduro government, coming as it does just after “interim president” Juan Guaidó’s return to the country earlier this week.
The message is that nothing and no one is off limits.
Charles Davis also contributed reporting to this story.