KNOXVILLE, Tenn — In September 2020, an East Tennessee Marine veteran was detained in Venezuela. The government accused him of acting as a terrorist and spying for former President Donald Trump after arresting him at a roadblock. They said he had been transporting a grenade launcher and a bag of money.
Two years later, Matthew Heath remains behind bars. His family continues to fight to bring him home.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antonin Blinken's office maintained Heath had been wrongfully detained by the Maduro regime on "specious charges."
"As Secretary Blinken has said, he is personally focused on bringing U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained home. We continue to press the Maduro regime for the immediate and unconditional release of Matthew and all other wrongfully detained U.S. nationals in Venezuela," the department said.
Connie Haynes, Heath's mother, said the family was able to have a short conversation over the phone with Heath last weekend. The calls they are able to have are done at random times, she said.
Heath has been confined in a military hospital for more than two months, and Haynes said he is "very sick" and in need of help. She said he is being denied basic human rights and said the family believes talks between the U.S. and Venezuela have stalled -- saying they have not seen any progress since the spring.
Haynes said they have been holding regular talks with East Tennessee's congressional lawmakers and the federal government -- saying they are lobbying to help bring him home.
"Just realize that Matthew has a 13-year-old son at home. He needs his father. We need Matthew home. He is an innocent man who has suffered, and I need the president to recognize this," Haynes said.