After a former U.S. Marine who is jailed in Venezuela attempted to commit suicide Saturday, elected officials in Tennessee are calling for his safe return to the United States.
“The safe return of Matthew Heath must be the highest priority for the White House and State Department,” said Representative Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN-03). “Our government and the Venezuelan government must come to an agreement to medically evacuate Matthew. His life is in danger, and we cannot delay.”
The safe return of Matthew Heath must be the highest priority for the White House and State Department.
Our government and the Venezuelan government must come to an agreement to medically evacuate Matthew. His life is in danger, and we cannot delay. https://t.co/oGkc3Fw1wO
— Chuck Fleischmann (@RepChuck) June 21, 2022
“The Biden Administration must urgently prioritize Matthew Heath’s release and hold the Maduro regime accountable,” said Rep. Mark Green (R-TN-07).
The Biden Administration must urgently prioritize Matthew Heath’s release and hold the Maduro regime accountable.
— Rep. Mark Green (@RepMarkGreen) June 21, 2022
“It is time that the Biden administration prioritizes Matthew Heath’s release from imprisonment in Venezuela,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
It is time that the Biden administration prioritizes Matthew Heath’s release from imprisonment in Venezuela.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) June 21, 2022
“I urge the Biden administration to prioritize efforts to bring Matthew Heath home safely. My office continues to engage the [U.S. State Department] on Matthews’s wrongful detention in Venezuela,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) said.
According to Tuesday reports that cited his legal defense team, Heath attempted to commit suicide in his Venezuelan jail cell on Saturday.
He is currently hospitalized.
The former Marine has been held in jail for nearly two years while awaiting trial after accusations that he supported an attempted 2020 coup to overthrow the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
His defense team says those accusations are bogus, and that he was on a boating trip in Central America visiting friends. Though the exact circumstances remain unclear, Heath – a security contractor from Tennessee – was reportedly kidnapped in Colombia before he was arrested in Venezuela.
Since his arrest, his lawyers say he has been subjected to torture at the hands of the Venezuelan government.
“His arrest was totally arbitrary – and that took place almost two years ago, and since then the ill treatment has not ceased,” Tamara Suju, part of Heath’s defense team, reportedly said.
“He is currently being subjected to psychological … torture, which can be more devastating to the person than the physical torture,” she said. “And he is overwhelmed by the overall injustice of his case, and the fact that his trial is now at a standstill because the witnesses against him are now refusing to testify.”
The State Department acknowledged that it heard the news of Heath’s suicide attempt, but did not comment.
“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was hospitalized in Venezuela,” it said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
The U.S. government agency has called the charges against Heath “specious.”
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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].