CARACAS (Dispatches) – Venezuelan media on Sunday named a U.S. spy who President Nicolas Maduro said was captured last week near the country’s largest oil refinery complex.
Media outlets identified the detainee as a former marine, John Heath Mattew, and said he was arrested on Thursday with three other people including a sergeant major in Venezuela’s National Guard as they drove between Falcon and Zulia states in northwestern Venezuela.
Ultimas Noticias newspaper, citing a preliminary report by the authorities, said the U.S. suspect was a former marine who had fought in Iraq, and that during the arrest soldiers seized a satellite phone, credit cards and mobile phones.
Falcon state is home to the giant Paraguana Refining Complex, comprised of the Amuay and Cardon refineries. Both have experienced multiple outages in recent years that the Western-backed opposition blames on mismanagement and lack of maintenance.
Maduro has said the suspect was caught while spying on the refineries and had been in possession of "specialized weapons ... large amounts of dollars and other items.”
"All the evidence is there, the photographs, the videos, this spy is a marine, who was serving as a marine at CIA bases in Iraq,” Maduro said on state TV on Friday.
Word of the alleged U.S. spy came after a Venezuelan court last month sentenced two former U.S. Green Berets to 20 years in prison for their role in a failed incursion in May.
Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves and its refineries can produce more than 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of fuel, but they are working at less than 20% of their capacity mainly due to power outages and lack of spare parts amid U.S. sanctions.
Venezuela descended into political turmoil after opposition figure Juan Guido unilaterally declared himself "interim president” in January last year, followed by a U.S.-backed botched putsch against the elected government. There was also an attempt at assassinating President Maduro in a drone strike in 2018.
Guaido’s self-proclamation and his coup attempt received backing from the U.S. administration.
Ever since, Washington has imposed several rounds of crippling sanctions against the oil-rich South American country aimed at ousting Maduro and replacing him with Guaido.