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US Marine veteran jailed in Venezuela attempts suicide, is hospitalized in Caracas

Matthew J. Heath, a retired U.S. Marine and security contractor from Tennessee now held in Venezuela and accused of espionage and terrorism. (Courtesy photo/Miami Herald/TNS)

Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine jailed under terrorism charges by the Nicolàs Maduro regime in Venezuela, has been hospitalized after trying to take his life on Saturday by using a piece of porcelain broken off from a sink to try to cut his veins, persons close to his defense team said.

Heath, who the State Department says has been jailed under “specious” charges, is currently stable after being treated for the wounds on his left arm. “The lesions he inflicted on himself were considerable but he is now out of danger,” a member of his defense team told the Miami Herald.

He is currently under observation at the military hospital in Caracas.

A State Department spokesman confirmed that the U.S. government is monitoring Heath’s condition.

“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was hospitalized in Venezuela,” the spokesman said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”

Trudy Rutherford, Heath’s aunt, said in a statement that the family learned of Heath’s attempted suicide “through private channels — not from our government.”

“Matthew’s life is in imminent danger, and we don’t detect any urgency at all from the White House. We are frustrated with the pattern of ‘deciding not to decide’ at the White House, endless policy reviews, and empty platitudes about his case being a priority,” Rutherford said.

The family has reached out to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who now works as a private citizen to help free Americans unjustly detained abroad, to help secure an emergency medical evacuation of Heath, Rutherford said.

“Just last week on a conference call with three senior administration officials, we warned them of our concerns about Matthew’s mental health and physical well-being after nearly 22 months of wrongful detention,” Rutherford said.

Legal team says Heath has been tortured

Members of his legal team said Heath has been under great stress because he has been tortured, and said that some of his torturers are now his jailers. “His arrest was totally arbitrary — and that took place almost two years ago, and since then the ill treatment has not ceased,” said human rights activist Tamara Suju, who also forms part of his defense team.

“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.”

They are refusing to testify because Heath has accused some of the witnesses brought against him in court of being the very same Venezuelan intelligence officers that tortured him soon after he was arrested, in an attempt to make him confess to the trumped-up charges, Suju said.

So the new witnesses that the prosecutors want to bring are refusing to show because they fear they will be identified as well.

Heath, 40, was arrested four months after a botched coup in May 2020, launched from Colombia and led in part by a Florida company called Silvercorp USA, an effort that may have been stopped with the help of Venezuelan government infiltrators. Linking these events to Heath, the Maduro regime accuses him of being a spy and a terrorist and claims he was caught in Falcon state carrying weapons and explosives.

Circumstances aren’t clear

His family and lawyers, however, claim that he was caught in a series of misadventures while attempting to visit friends by boat in Aruba, an island that is just 15 miles off Venezuela’s northwest coast.

How he went from the boat to the volatile region inside Venezuela remains unclear. His family alleges he was kidnapped and extorted in Colombia before his arrest in Venezuela.

Although the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Venezuela under the Maduro regime, the State Department has said that it is monitoring Heath’s situation closely and on Jan. 21 issued a statement highlighting that the former Marine had been wrongfully detained for 500 days.

“Matthew was arrested in September 2020 on specious charges, and his trial is still ongoing. We continue to seek his unconditional return and the release of all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained overseas, and Secretary (Antony) Blinken is relentlessly pursuing Matthew’s release. To the Maduro regime officials who have imprisoned him, we call for him to be allowed to return to the United States so that he can reunite with his family,” it said in a press release.

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