Relatives of a Venezuelan army officer who deserted because of his opposition to the Maduro regime and is being detained at a U.S. immigration center say they fear he will be jailed and tortured if he’s deported.
Lt. Argenis Gabriel Figueroa Rodríguez, 25, asked for a seven-day leave of absence in September but then walked into neighboring Colombia and from there headed to Orlando, where his two sisters live.
But when his plane landed in Texas he was questioned by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He first said he was visiting but then admitted that he intended to ask for political asylum, said one of the sisters, Airam Figueroa.
He has been held in four U.S. immigration detention centers and is currently at the Joe Corley Detention Facility in Texas. Two officials there tried to get him to sign a voluntary deportation order, but he refused.
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“I am afraid he will be deported, and his life will be in danger because he deserted. I fear that if he’s sent to Venezuela, he will be persecuted, arrested and tortured when he arrives,” Figueroa said.
The Maduro regime issued an order for the lieutenant’s arrest on Oct. 29, accusing him of desertion and treason, crimes punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Venezuelan officials have twice called his father to ask about the lieutenant’s whereabouts.
He failed an initial screening interview, known as a “credible fear of persecution” interview, before U.S. immigration officials and again before an immigration judge, according to the sister.
“But he’s telling the truth. He deserted because he does not agree with the Maduro regime,” Figueroa said. “I am asking for shelter for my brother, protection in this country.”
The lieutenant was one of the many Venezuelan military officers who have broken with the Maduro regime.
A group of armed forces members now in Peru issued a statement last week accusing Nicoáas Maduro of fraud in the recent presidential elections. He was sworn in to a new term on Jan. 10.
“We do not recognize Nicolás Maduro Moros as president of Venezuela or commander in chief” of the armed forces, they declared in a video broadcast by the Peruvian TV channel UCI noticias.
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