American reporter Cody Weddle's first-person account of being detained in Venezuela

The freelance reporter for ABC News and other outlets was freed after 12 hours.

March 9, 2019, 8:54 AM

MIAMI -- When I woke up to my doorbell ringing on Monday, I jumped out of bed expecting the water guy to have two large bottles of water for the week.

Instead, I was greeted by three armed men and one woman, with handguns and long guns.

I had opened the door but the outer gate remained closed. The officers passed over a court order, that I would later learn was issued by a military court, authorizing a raid of my apartment.

While Venezuela has become progressively less welcoming to journalists, this type of raid still hasn’t become the norm. I debated how to handle the situation and didn’t plan to open the gate.

I knew if I could make it to my phone, word would spread quickly and they would probably back off because of the uproar. But the lady who cleans the building was there with the officers and clearly upset by the situation.

I felt bad and opened the door.

PHOTO: Reporter Cody Weddle reports for ABC News from Venezuela, Jan. 30, 2019.
Reporter Cody Weddle reports for ABC News from Venezuela, Jan. 30, 2019.
ABC News

The officers proceeded to go through every corner of my apartment while the agent in charge immediately demanded my iPhone and began to review my WhatsApp messages. I would later be able to more carefully read that court order -- I was being investigated for treason, extraction of military equipment and espionage.

Despite the bizarre and worrying situation, I did manage to keep my cool and tried to crack some jokes to lighten the mood.

After about an hour, three more men and women dressed in civilian clothes entered the apartment, taking out an oval apparatus that shot a laser. They said they were doing a “sweep” and looking for spying equipment.

I had hoped that after the “sweep” they would be on their way with my confiscated electronics and I would be left alone. But then “to complete the process,” the man said that I would "need to accompany them to their headquarters for an interview.”

PHOTO: Reporter Cody Weddle reports for ABC News from Venezuela, Feb. 13, 2019.
Reporter Cody Weddle reports for ABC News from Venezuela, Feb. 13, 2019.
ABC News

When we arrived at the headquarters of the military counterintelligence unit, the officer in charge asked for the “mask.”

“Mask for me?!” I responded.

The officers placed a black ski mask with no holes over my head so I couldn’t see my surroundings and I was eventually led into a room and sat down in a chair in the corner.

The head officer would periodically prod my shoulder, sometimes asking for the password to my computer, and at times asking for more information about my sources and contacts as a journalist.

Then during a subsequent interrogation, it became clear what information they wanted from me: they kept asking which contacts I have within the military.

A few weeks prior, I had done a story for ABC News Miami affiliate WPLG -- about cracks and discontent within Venezuela’s security forces. All of my sources told me that a vast majority of the security forces would like to see a change in government.

I didn’t have any names or contacts of the sources I interviewed for that piece and told them such. They insisted I turn over the names of the “five generals” whom I interviewed.

I hadn’t interviewed generals, only rank and file members.

After the interrogation, the agents said that they “would become the journalist” and brought me into a room with a camera, guiding me through questions to answer -- political questions.

“Nicolas Maduro is the president of Venezuela, correct?” the man asked.

“Internally, he remains the president and maintains control of Venezuelan territory," I responded. "Externally, many countries now recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president.”

During the ordeal, it was clear that the officers had been given instructions to not harm me physically. I was never even handcuffed, never beaten.

Toward the end of the 12-hour ordeal, which I mostly spent sitting in the corner of the room, the agents appeared to become nervous.

A “small revolt” had formed because of my arrest and the arrest of my assistant, Carlos Camacho.

Another agent barged in.

“Give him his things and get him out of here now!” she said.

I would then spend the night at Caracas’ Simon Bolivar Airport, guarded by immigration officials before ordered on a plane headed for Miami at noon the next day.

My case appears to be a reflection of the growing paranoia in the security forces.

It comes as Guaido continues to urge the security forces to defect from the Maduro regime.

And through my ordeal, I was able to confirm my prior reporting: the rank and file of Venezuela’s security forces are highly affected by the economic crisis.

I overhead numerous authorities complaining about their salaries -- some said they didn’t even make $20 a month. It was also clear that authorities are mostly improvising.

When they didn’t have an ink pad to take my fingerprints, an agent broke one of my pens, emptying the ink into a bottle cap to take my fingerprints.

Cody Weddle is a freelance journalist who was based in Caracas, Venezuela, for several years, until he was arrested and deported this week. He filed for a number of news organizations, including ABC News.