Timothy Tracy, a 35-year-old filmmaker and graduate of Georgetown University, went to Venezuela to make a film about the country's searing political divide.
Now he has been arrested, President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday in a speech in which he accused the American of instigating the unrest that has roiled the oil-rich country since its April 14 presidential election. Venezuela's political opposition says the election was stolen through fraudulent voting.
"The gringo who financed the violent groups has been captured," Mr. Maduro said in comments carried on state television. "I gave the order that he be detained immediately and passed over to the attorney general's office."
The arrest of Mr. Tracy, a resident of Los Angeles, comes on the heels of accusations by Mr. Maduro about U.S.-inspired machinations designed to bring about his downfall.
According to the National Electoral Council, Mr. Maduro, 50, narrowly won the election to succeed late President Hugo Chavez. Mr. Maduro has suggested that the United States infected the charismatic leader with the cancer that killed him. He has accused the Obama administration of fomenting the protests that shook Venezuela after his challenger, Henrique Capriles, a 40-year-old lawyer, called for a recount following the election.
"They're desperate," Mr. Capriles said this week of the government, which he blames for violence in the streets. "That's why they're doing this -- the confrontation, the violence -- so that the people don't look at the things that are happening and that cannot be resolved."
Mr. Tracy's friends in the United States say the budding filmmaker, who was arrested Wednesday at the Caracas airport, has become a scapegoat.
"Tim Tracy is not affiliated with any governmental intelligence agency -- is not even remotely associated," said Jesse Herman, a friend who studied at Georgetown with Mr. Tracy. "It's almost comical, the way he's being portrayed."
In a news conference Thursday, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said the government has Mr. Tracy's videos and other evidence that show he had a close relationship with the "extreme right" that is intent on taking power.
Mr. Rodriguez said that "from the way he acted, there is no doubt that he is from an intelligence agency."
"He knows how to infiltrate, how to recruit sources," Mr. Rodriguez added. "The mission was to take us to civil war."
He then showed a video.
But in the video, purportedly shot by Mr. Tracy, young people joke and mug for the camera in a drab room. It is unclear how the video points to a destabilization plan. Nor does it explain Mr. Tracy's role.
The youth group Mr. Tracy had been filming, which calls itself Active Youth Venezuela United, said Friday that the videos did not even feature its members, as the government claimed.