Venezuela expels US filmmaker accused of espionage

Venezuela has deported an American filmmaker who claimed to be working on a documentary but whom Caracas said was a spy, officials announced Wednesday.

"The gringo Timothy Hallet Tracy, arrested while undertaking espionage in our country, has been expelled from our national territory," Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres announced via Twitter.

The deportation came as US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Venezuelan counterpart Elias Jaua in Guatemala, pledging to "find a new way forward," though it was unclear whether the two events were linked.

Tracy was arrested in April at an airport as he tried to leave Venezuela, where he was said to be working on a political documentary tied to elections to choose a successor to leftist leader Hugo Chavez, who died in March.

Caracas insisted that the American was a spy working to destabilize Venezuela -- a charge the United States has denied.

Tracy boarded a commercial flight from Caracas to Miami at 6:40 am (1110 GMT), Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez accused Washington of using certain documentary filmmakers and journalists to contact youths belonging to opposition parties as a means to "gather information with videos, pictures and meetings."

Rodriguez has said that Tracy was linked to a Venezuelan protest movement known as "Operation Sovereignty," in which demonstrators pressed for more information about Chavez's health prior to his death from cancer.

But Tracy's lawyer Daniel Rosas told Globovision television that his client was released because prosecutors "did not have enough evidence to charge him."

The United States and Venezuela had thorny relations throughout the 14-year rule of Chavez, who repeatedly inveighed against US "imperialism" in the region and long accused Washington of plotting his downfall.

The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

Shortly after the election President Nicolas Maduro -- Chavez's handpicked successor -- accused two ex-US ambassadors of fomenting a plot to assassinate him before the April 14 polls.

A month earlier, two US military attaches were expelled, accused of conspiring against the government.