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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/5/19

'You don't have any rights': CBP agents interrogate US citizen and seize his phone after Venezuela solidarity trip

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Republished from The Grayzone


The detention of a US citizen returning from Venezuela was an apparent extension of the US government's efforts to punish citizens who have protested its policy of regime change and economic warfare.

A US citizen has told The Grayzone that the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service detained him on his way home from Venezuela and violated his privacy.

Sergio Lazo Torrez, a 31-year-old Nicaraguan-American, said the CBP forced him to open his cellphone, grilled him about his political beliefs, and demanded information about his contact with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Torrez was returning to the Washington, DC area on the evening of August 2 when he was detained by CBP at Dulles International Airport in Vienna, Virginia. He had just participated in a week-long tour of Venezuela with over a dozen US citizens, including this journalist and two other reporters for The Grayzone.

During the trip, the group met with members of local social movements, leaders of workers' cooperatives, artists, and elected officials. On August 1, the visitors accepted an invitation to meet with Maduro at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.

The meeting apparently triggered the US government's decision to target Torrez.

"They said that while I was being held I didn't have any rights," Torrez told The Grayzone, referring to the CBP. "I said, 'Can I call my lawyer?' They said, 'No, you don't have any rights, it doesn't matter if you call a lawyer. First of all, you can't even use your phone and second of all, you don't have any rights to do anything.'"

Like the other US citizens on the trip to Venezuela, Torrez had participated in the Embassy Protection Collective this April and May.

For over a month, peace activists residing in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC, obstructed the seizure of the facility by the US-backed coup administration of opposition leader Juan Guaido. They were besieged for almost two weeks by a mob of right-wing Guaido supporters, who bombarded them with racist, sexist, and homophobic invective.

On May 16, the four final embassy protectors were removed by force by federal agents. They now face prosecution in federal court and possible penalties of one year in prison and $100,000 fines.

Torrez displaying the flag of the Sandinista front in front of the Venezuelan embassy in DC
Torrez displaying the flag of the Sandinista front in front of the Venezuelan embassy in DC
(Image by The Grayzone website)
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The detention and interrogation of Torrez was an apparent extension of the US government's efforts to punish citizens that have protested its policy of regime change and economic warfare against Venezuela's elected government.

"They kept asked me what kind of relations I had with Maduro and I just said I had none," Torrez recalled. "[The CBP officer] was like, 'What was the conversation with him about?' I said, 'I just shook his hand and said hi. That's all I did.' And they were like, 'You have pictures with all these people from the government, all these officials.' And I was like, 'Yeah it was a picture. We didn't need to have a conversation.'"

"I think they targeted me for being Latino"

Torrez said that soon after he landed at Dulles, he was subjected to a secondary security check. Then, two CBP officers burst out of a room and summoned him inside. He had been traveling with several other members of the Embassy Protection Collective, but was the only one subjected to an interrogation.

"I think they targeted me for being Latino," Torrez said. "There were no [white] Americans in the waiting room. And I was one of two Latinos in our group."

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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including best-selling Republican GomorrahGoliathThe Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of (more...)

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