Timothy Tracy, a 35-year-old filmmaker from California, went to Venezuela to make a film about the country's searing political divide.
Now he's been arrested, President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday in a speech in which he accused the American of instigating the unrest that has roiled the oil-rich country since its April 14 presidential election. Venezuela's political opposition says the election was stolen through fraudulent voting.
"The gringo who financed the violent groups has been captured," Maduro said in comments carried on state television. "I gave the order that he be detained immediately and passed over to the Attorney General's Office."
The arrest of Tracy comes on the heels of accusations by Maduro about U.S.-inspired machinations designed to bring about his downfall.
According to the National Electoral Council, Maduro, 50, narrowly won the election to succeed late President Hugo Chavez. Maduro has suggested that the United States infected the charismatic leader with the cancer that killed him. He has accused the Obama administration of fomenting the protests that shook Venezuela after his challenger, Henrique Capriles, a 40-year-old lawyer, called for a recount.
With Capriles now saying the election was stolen and opponents demanding a transparent audit of the votes, the government has stepped up claims that the Obama administration is behind the country's troubles as a preamble to an invasion.
"They're desperate," Capriles said Thursday of the government, which he blames for violence in the streets. "That's why they're doing this - the confrontation, the violence, so that the people don't look at the things that are happening and that cannot be resolved."
Tracy's friends in the United States say the budding filmmaker, who was arrested Wednesday at the Caracas airport, has become a scapegoat.
"Tim Tracy is not affiliated with any governmental intelligence agency - is not even remotely associated," said Jesse Herman, a friend who studied at Georgetown University with Tracy. "The whole thing is ridiculous. It's almost comical, the way he's being portrayed."
In a news conference Thursday, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said the government has Tracy's videos and other evidence that show he had a close relationship with the "extreme right" that is intent on taking power.
Said Rodriguez: "From the way he acted, there is no doubt that he is from an intelligence agency."