In 2006 I produced and directed a self-financed documentary, "Children of the Clouds", about the repression of Sahrawi students by Moroccan authorities. As a director/cinematographer working in Hollywood on commercial projects, I felt the need to contribute to the human rights arena by using my craft. I decided to address the issue of the illegal occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco and the human rights abuses committed in the former Spanish colony.
With my own money and no support but from a few Sahrawi human rights activist on the ground, I sneaked into El Aaiún, capital of Western Sahara, with a camera and a few contacts. After six days of clandestine filming I was detained by the Moroccan authorities and taken to the police station on Smara street. I was interrogated for eight hours under much psychological duress and accused of being an agent of the CIA and Mossad. I was subsequently expelled on the first flight to the Canary Islands. A couple of days later, a fabricated confession appeared in the government controlled Assabah newspaper in which I allegedly confessed to being an agent of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
This takes me to the case of Timothy Tracy. Tim Tracy, an actor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, was curious about the extreme political polarization in Venezuela and decided to make a film about it. He got all necessary permits for filming and travelled to Venezuela. I don't know Tim personally, but we share mutual friends. On April 24th, he was arrested and accused of being a CIA agent and of allegedly funneling funds to student groups opposing the new government of President-elect Nicolás Maduro. To this day Venezuelan authorities have produced no evidence of his alleged crime. President Obama said the allegations were "ridiculous". In response, President Nicolás Maduro described Obama as "grand chief of devils" and accused the United States of "imperialist meddling".
More troubling yet, Tim Tracy was transferred to the notorious El Rodeo prison outside of Caracas on May 29th. El Rodeo is one of the most violent prisons in Latin America. The Economist called it "the fifth circle of hell" in an article about the prison riots of 2011. The prison is run by the pran, heavily armed gangs inside the prison. "Prisoners pay a monthly fee to their pran, who determines where they sleep, what they eat and whether they live or die", according to The Economist. I fear for Tim's safety.
As self-financed, independent documentary makers, we are alone out in the field. As opposed to journalists, we don't have credentials or the backing of a news agency. Often, our governments won't get involved for political reasons and only provide minimal consular support. In my case, traveling under Spanish nationality, the Spanish government never denounced my detention or took the initiative of talking to me to get the facts. I was accused of being an agent of a foreign government which should have been a cause of concern for Spain, but instead they decide not to address it in order to keep good relations with Morocco, Spain's very important trading partner.
Venezuelan filmmakers, writers, journalists and intellectuals, have written an open letter to the Venezuelan government demanding the release of Timothy Tracy and voicing their concern for his transfer to El Rodeo prison from the SEBIN, Venezuela's secret police headquarters. It is time for the American filmmaking community to take a stand and demand Tim Tracy's release. As a member, I urge the Directors Guild of America to address this matter and advocate for his release. As DGA members, I urge Sean Penn and Oliver Stone, long time friends of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, to intercede in Tim's behalf and secure his release. All filmmakers should speak for Tim Tracy while he's being silenced.