PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Local 10 News reporter Cody Weddle plans to celebrate freedom with Local 10 News viewers Sunday at Calle Ocho in Miami's Little Havana.
Weddle said he felt fortunate to be back in South Florida, but the experience was bittersweet. He had been working as a journalist in Venezuela for nearly five years when his apartment was the focus of a two-hour Venezuelan military raid.
Weddle said he was in his pajamas at his apartment in Caracas when military counterintelligence agents from Venezuela's Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar, or DGCIM, arrived about 6:30 a.m. Witnesses told the Venezuelan journalists' union they had an order from a military judge.
He was detained, interrogated and deported.
"It's sad to have to leave Venezuela," Weddle said after arriving at Miami International Airport from Caracas.
Weddle said his ordeal shows the situation is deteriorating for the local and foreign journalists who are covering the political crisis. For hours, he had feared Venezuelan authorities were going to charge him in a military tribunal just as they had done about three months ago with a German journalist.
Billy Six, 32, worked in Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Ukraine before ending up at El Helicoide, a high-security prison in Caracas. It's the same prison where Joshua Holt, a former Mormon missionary from Utah, was held for nearly two years before his release in May.
In 2012, Six was arrested in Syria and held for over two months. He continued his work in journalism. In Nov. 17, Venezuelan authorities arrested him at his hotel in the beach side city of Punto Fijo. His family has used Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness ever since.
"This is how governments react where freedom of press is still not a human right," the Free Billy Six post said on Facebook, adding a picture of Weddle with a notice of his arrest.
Weddle said the agents gave him time to brush his teeth, get dressed and grab a piece of bread. They also used his luggage to pack his laptop, camera, phone, notebook and equipment. The heavily armed agents took him to the DGCIM headquarters in Caracas' Boleíta neighborhood.
The agents didn't handcuff him. They put on a mask over his face and didn't give him water or food. He was facing a wall for most of the day. He said they recorded part of the interrogation.
"They kept asking me if I had contacts in the military," Weddle said.
He said he "teared up a little bit" when he thought about his mother back in Virginia. While he was in detention, Foro Penal and Espacio Publico, two of the most prominent nongovernmental organizations in Venezuela, provided legal aid.
The Organization of American States, The White House, Juan Guaidó, the U.S.-recognized interim president, Human Rights Watch and colleagues as prominent as Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who was deported from Venezuela in February, demanded his release.
"It was clear that they were in a hurry to get me out," Weddle said.
The military agents released Weddle to Venezuelan immigration authorities at the Simón Bolívar International Airport in Caracas on Wednesday night. That day Venezuelan journalist Alí Domínguez died at a hospital in Caracas after he suffered a beating that left him with a serious head injury. The attack is still under investigation.
Weddle wasn't injured. He boarded the American Airlines flight departed at 12 p.m. There were reporters waiting for him at Miami International Airport and at the Local 10 News studio in Pembroke Park. He plans to continue to cover Venezuela because he can't imagine himself doing anything else.
Weddle said he is grateful for the support and he will be meeting with Local 10 News viewers from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, at Local 10 News' Carnaval Miami's Calle Ocho Music Festival tent on Eighth Street and Southwest 16th Avenue in Miami's Little Havana.