It has been two years since U.S. citizen and Marine veteran Matthew Heath was wrongfully detained in Venezuela. He was arrested in 2020 on specious charges and his trial remains ongoing.
In a written statement, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price again pressed the Maduro regime “for the immediate and unconditional release of Matthew and all other wrongfully detained U.S. nationals in Venezuela.”
In March the Venezuelan government released two wrongfully detained U.S. citizens, one of whom belonged to the so-called “Citgo 6” - five U.S. citizens and one U.S. lawful permanent resident, who were arrested in Venezuela in 2017. Five members of the Citgo 6 remain wrongfully detained in Venezuela along with other U.S. nationals.
There are dozens of U.S. citizens wrongfully detained around the world, held not as hostages by non-state actors, but by governments. Roger Carstens, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, said those governments may want to use them “for political leverage…a bargaining chip,” posing a threat to the safety of all U.S. citizens traveling, working, and living abroad.
In July, President Biden signed an executive order aimed at deterring hostage-taking and wrongful detention of U.S. citizens abroad, including by authorizing U.S. government departments and agencies to impose costs and consequences, such as financial sanctions and visa restrictions, on those who are responsible, whether they are terrorist networks or state actors.
In a parallel effort, the State Department introduced a new risk indicator to its travel advisories – the “D” indicator, warning U.S. citizens of the elevated risk of wrongful detention in particular countries that have engaged in this practice. Currently six countries’ Travel Advisories reflect the D risk indicator: Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Russia, and Venezuela.
President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. nationals overseas.
As Secretary of State Blinken wrote in announcing the President’s executive order and the new travel advisory indicator, “When Americans are taken captive abroad, we must do everything in our power to secure their release…. We will continue to be relentless in our efforts to reunite Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained with their loved ones.”