The United States denied that a US filmmaker arrested in Venezuela was a spy tasked with sowing civil unrest throughout the country, as claimed by Caracas.
The alleged agent, Timothy Tracy, was detained Wednesday at an airport near Caracas as he tried to leave the country, according to Venezuelan officials, who also released pictures of the American.
"We are aware of the arrest of a US citizen in Caracas... Because of privacy considerations, we're unable to comment on the specific case further at this time," said State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
"But let me just say that these types of accusations are the latest in a series of allegations made by the Venezuela government in recent weeks against a variety of, 'foreign actors,' suggesting efforts to affect political developments in Venezuela."
Ventrell stressed that the allegations "have not been substantiated."
"The US continues to categorically reject any allegations of US government efforts to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela," he said.
According to media reports, Tracy is a 35-year-old filmmaker based in Hollywood who has been working on a documentary since last year.
The US congressman who represents the district where he lives, Adam Schiff, voiced anger at the arrest.
The arrest "on trumped up charges is an unsettling indication that (former president) Hugo Chavez's intolerance of press freedom has survived his death," said Schiff, who represents California's 28th congressional district.
Maduro's claim that Tracy was "creating violence" in Venezuela "is ludicrous on its face," Schiff said.
"The Venezuelan government should release Mr Tracy immediately and allow him to leave the country without further hindrance."
Movie industry website IMDb lists Tracy as the producer of three film and TV projects, the most recent of which was "Angry White Man" in 2011. He also has five acting credits. No current project is listed.
Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said Caracas assumed Tracy "belongs to some intelligence organization, because he is trained and he knows how to infiltrate, and how to handle sources and security information."
Caracas also accused him of being linked to a protest movement known as "Operation Sovereignty," in which demonstrators pressed for more information about the health of Chavez prior to his death last month.
Tracy, who officials said was born in the midwestern US state of Michigan in 1978, "began to have close relations with these youths from Operation Sovereignty," Rodriguez said told reporters.
The United States and Venezuela have not had respective ambassadors since 2010. Chavez and his newly-elected successor Nicolas Maduro regularly accused Washington of attempting to destabilize the oil-rich country.
Early this month, Maduro accused two ex-US ambassadors of fomenting a plot to assassinate him before the April 14 election. A month earlier, two US military attaches were expelled, accused of conspiring against the government.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]