MIAMI – Local 10 reporter Cody Weddle returned to the U.S. Thursday afternoon, a day after he was detained in Venezuela by government officials.
Weddle arrived at Miami International Airport shortly before 3 p.m.
"I was there detained for pretty much the entire day with my face covered with a ski mask with counterintelligence folks there. So it's been a stressful few days, certainly, but thankfully, I was released," Weddle told Local 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg.
According to Weddle, agents questioned him randomly throughout the day and were especially interested in who his military contacts were.
"They continuously kept asking if I had contacts in the military, if I had contacts in the local police force or the national police force," Weddle said. "They were going through my phone. They wanted to know who were the local journalists who worked with me."
Weddle said the agents also repeatedly asked him about five military generals they believed he had spoken with.
"I didn't do a story speaking to five military generals, so I don't know where they got that information but evidently they thought I had done a story speaking to five military generals," he said.
While Weddle said he did speak with some local officials, he said he didn't take down anyone's name purposely.
"I did do a story speaking with local officials. I spoke to some military people in exile and also some national police officers, but I didn't have their names," Weddle said. "I never took down their names purposely in case this situation were to happen so I didn't have their names, I couldn't give their names and I wouldn't have given their names, anyway, and they weren't in my phone, either."
Weddle believes his captors felt the increasing public pressure for his release from the viral social media posts regarding his detainment.
He spoke on the phone with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., after speaking with reporters at the airport and thanked him for his support during the ordeal.
Just got off the phone with @WPLGLocal10’s reporter @coweddle, who just landed in Miami. We are thankful for his safe return home from #Venezuela.— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) March 7, 2019
We owe him a debt of gratitude for risking his safety to report on the Maduro regime’s atrocities. pic.twitter.com/LYLoxT68dA
Scott and many other politicians from across the country condemned Weddle's detainment and called for his immediate release.
Weddle was taken to the Simon Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetia Wednesday night after he was questioned by agents for more than 10 hours.
Weddle said officials told him he was being deported.
Early Wednesday morning, a group of agents clad in black clothing with bulletproof vests and an order signed by a Venezuelan military judge raided his apartment and took him away in a Jeep.
Weddle said guards searched his cellphone and computer and would sporadically question him about his work. He was not hurt, but said he was without food and water during the interrogation.
"It was clear they didn't like my reporting," Weddle told Local 10 News reporter Louis Aguirre. "They were interested in a story I did about the current atmosphere in the armed forces."
Weddle said the agents accused him of treason, espionage and removing military artifacts.
After the interrogation, he said Venezuelan counterintelligence agents left him in the custody of Venezuelan immigration officials at the airport.
Weddle was in the custody of Venezuela's Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar, a military agency that investigates espionage. They also detained Weddle's assistant, Carlos Camacho, a Venezuelan citizen, who was also later released.
Tensions have been running high in Venezuela in recent weeks as opposition leader Juan Guaido has challenged the presidency of Nicolas Maduro. Dozens of countries, including the U.S. and Canada, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader.
Weddle's detention was part of a broader crackdown on journalists in Venezuela. Last week, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was detained for several hours after a contentious interview with Maduro.
On Wednesday, Guaido demanded Weddle's release, saying he had been "kidnapped" as part of an attempt to hide what is going on in Venezuela. The White House and the Organization of American States also demanded Weddle's release.
Weddle has reported from Venezuela for more than four years. He started his work in Caracas with Telesur, a Venezuelan government network. He filed his last story for Local 10 on Monday, detailing Guaido's return to Venezuela.
Weddle said authorities returned his phone and computer, but all of his possessions remain in his Caracas apartment.
"We welcome home reporter Cody Weddle after his frightening ordeal in Venezuela," WPLG President and CEO E.R. Bert Medina said in a statement. "Cody has legally lived and worked in Venezuela for nearly five years. In that time he has done outstanding work informing South Florida viewers of the growing crisis in Venezuela. He has always been fair, unbiased and professional. It is a shame a reporter is being expelled from a country for simply telling the truth. Cody has been ordered to leave Venezuela but our viewers can be assured we will not stop covering this story. Cody will continue to report on the crisis in Venezuela with sources inside the country and throughout the region."