Whereabouts of Venezuelan human rights attorney and her family remain unknown days after detentions

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The whereabouts of a prominent human rights attorney, her daughter and ex-husband remained unknown Monday, three days after Venezuelan authorities detained her at the airport near the capital as she and her adult child awaited a flight to Miami, setting off condemnation inside and outside the South American country.

Attorneys for lawyer and activist Rocío San Miguel, Miranda Díaz San Miguel and Victor Díaz Paruta could not locate their clients Monday at detention facilities in Caracas despite confirmation Sunday from Attorney General Tarek William Saab of San Miguel’s detention.

Authorities have not acknowledged the detention of Miranda Díaz and Victor Díaz, but a family spokeswoman told The Associated Press Monday both were last seen Saturday at Simon Bolivar International Airport where they had returned to pick up the luggage left behind after San Miguel’s detention. Two brothers of San Miguel also went missing after she was taken into custody and are presumed detained.

Amid the uncertainty, more than 200 non-governmental organizations demanded their immediate release in a letter that also urged the international community to condemn the actions against San Miguel and her family. The United States government also expressed concern.

San Miguel, 57, has specialized in studying Venezuela’s shadowy, often corrupt armed forces. She is the head the non-governmental organization Control Ciudadano, which focuses on the defense of human rights, security and the armed forces.

Saab claimed San Miguel had been linked to a plot to kill President Nicolás Maduro and other officials and attack military units.

Victor Díaz’s sister, Minnie Díaz Paruta, told the AP that San Miguel was detained as she was about to go on vacation to Miami with Miranda Diaz. After her mother’s detention, she called her father and asked him to pick her up at the airport. The following day, Minnie Díaz said, her niece and brother returned to the airport after getting a call regarding the abandoned luggage.

Minnie Díaz said Miranda Díaz spent an hour at the airport, and after her father, waiting in the car, could not get a hold of her over the phone, an aunt asked airport personnel to call her over the intercom. She was called twice, Minnie Díaz said, then agents with Venezuela’s counterintelligence agency took her to an airport office where she saw Miranda in the distance before she was interviewed for about 90 minutes.

Minnie Díaz said the interview ended when an agent came into the interview room and told her Victor Díaz wanted her to know that he "was on his way to Boleita,” which is a neighborhood where Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence has a detention center. Human rights experts with the United Nations have documented the existence of torture rooms in the center.

“Our main concern as a family is the integrity of their lives. We don’t know if they are alive. We don’t know what may be happening to them,” Minnie Díaz said. “Where are they? We want real proof and evidence of where they are, what physical conditions they are in.”

She said no arrest warrants or summons have been issued against her brother, who runs an insurance business, and her niece, who earned a journalism degree and was in Venezuela on vacation as she has lived in Europe for years.

Minnie Díaz added San Miguel and Miranda Díaz are dual citizens of Venezuela and Spain, whose consulate she hopes will intervene in the case.

San Miguel's detention comes more than three months after the U.S. government rolled back some economic sanctions against Venezuela following Maduro's commitment to hold an election in the second half of 2024, lift bans preventing adversaries from holding office and release political prisoners. His promises are part of an agreement signed in the Caribbean island of Barbados between his representatives and those of a faction of the opposition.

The Biden administration, via a tweet from its Venezuelan Affairs Unit based in neighboring Colombia, on Monday said San Miguel's case “follows a worrying trend of apparently arbitrary arrests of democratic actors” and urged Maduro to follow through his commitments.