WESTWOOD—A University of California, Los Angeles alumnus and Los Angeles Public Defender, Eyvin Hernandez, 44, has been imprisoned by the Venezuelan government since March 31, 2022. The State Department designated Hernandez as “wrongfully detained” and the Association of Deputy District Attorneys sent a letter to President Biden on Wednesday, February 22, 2023, urging him to help secure the lawyer’s safe release.

Eyvin with his nephews.

In March 2022, Hernandez was reportedly on a two-week vacation in Colombia with friends. They were planning to visit beach towns, but his Venezuelan friend needed her passport stamped to go. He accompanied his friend to Cucuta, Columbia – a city on the border of Columbia and Venezuela – to get her passport stamped. 

While in Cucuta, Hernandez and his friend hailed a taxi to the Simon Bolivar International Bridge and were instructed by someone to walk down a populated dirt road to their destination, according to a website published by his family. Unbeknownst to them, it was the invisible border between Colombia and Venezuela. “There’s no sign that says ‘You’re leaving Colombia’ or ‘Welcome to Venezuela,” Henry Martínez, Hernandez’s brother, told NBC.

They were approached by heavily armed men in masks and asked to pay a $100 bribe to enter Venezuela. Hernandez declined to pay the bribe, and he and his friend had black bags placed over their heads and were kidnapped. His captors turned him into security forces, and Hernandez wasn’t heard from in weeks.  

He has been detained in Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence prison – a maximum security prison in Caracas – where The United Nations and U.S. agencies expressed concerns over human rights violations. Hernandez faces charges of criminal association and conspiracy, and if found guilty, could face up to 16 years in prison.

Eyvin (left) at a UCLA game.

Multiple politicians wrote letters urging President Biden and the U.S Department of State to prioritize the immediate release and safe return of Hernandez. 

The Biden Administration is under pressure to bring home at least 50 Americans being wrongfully detained in foreign countries. Much focus was on WMBA star Britney Griner, but Venezuela holds the largest contingent of Americans suspected of being used as bargaining chips, the Associated Press reported. 

Political tensions between the U.S. and Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro – and the lack of U.S. diplomatic presence in Venezuela since 2019 – have limited access to jailed Americans. In April 2022, the State Department warned of threats to Americans along the Colombia-Venezuela border, and recommended Americans avoid travel to the country. 

Hernandez is one of several Americans, including Luke Denman, Airan Berry and Jerrel Kenemore, currently being detained in Venezuela, with limited hopes of getting a fair trial.

“All of the Americans here feel like our government has abandoned us, dismissed us and that they don’t care about us,” Hernandez said in a phone recording provided to the Associated Press by his family. “The uncertainty, the isolation and the daily human rights violations are taking their toll and are having their intended effect on us…if you don’t get us out soon, then there might not be anyone left to save,” Hernandez added.  

Hernandez migrated to Los Angeles as a toddler with his parents, who were fleeing civil war in El Salvador. After graduating from the University of California Los Angeles law school, he became a public defender representing indigent and sometimes homeless defendants.

Eyvin (bottom row, left) as a mentor and trainer in the LA County Public Defenders Office.

To learn more about Eyvin and how to help, visit here.