UCLA alumnus’ friends, family urge release from wrongful detainment in Venezuela
Eyvin Hernandez (pictured), a double alumnus and a Los Angeles public defender, went missing at the end of March. UCLA community members voiced support for Hernandez’s safe return to the United States, calling upon President Joe Biden to negotiate his release. (Courtesy of Henry Martinez)
By Rio Wakura
Feb. 5, 2023 9:15 p.m.
For over 10 months, Henry Martinez has been waiting for his brother to come home.
Eyvin Hernandez, a double alumnus and a Los Angeles County public defender, went missing in late March 2022 following a vacation in Colombia after he accompanied a friend to the Venezuelan border, according to the LA Times. Martinez said Hernandez had no intentions of entering the country, but in April, he was confirmed to be arrested, charged with criminal association and conspiracy, and detained in Venezuela, according to NBC.
He was taken to a maximum security military prison by what various reports cited by the LA Times describe as a paramilitary group, gang or Venezuelan officials. After seven months, he was officially recognized by the United States government as being wrongfully detained.
Martinez denies the Venezuelan government’s accusations toward his brother. He remembers Hernandez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics in 2001 and from the School of Law in 2005, as a dependable and caring brother. He added the accusations are a political strategy for the Venezuelan government and have nothing to do with Hernandez.
Venezuela has been wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens at rising rates, according to reports from 2019 onward from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, an organization tracking these cases. The country released seven Americans in October in exchange for relatives of President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, who were in prison in the U.S., according to the LA Times. Hernandez was not among those released; he has now been imprisoned for more than 10 months.
Martinez said in an emailed statement that these recent releases give him hope – but many in the UCLA community want to see quicker action from the U.S. government.
Those who know Hernandez have been aware of his wrongful detainment longer than when he received the official designation from the U.S., said Karlene Nguyen, an alumnus and friend of Hernandez from their undergraduate years, in an emailed statement. She said it was disappointing to not see him released.
Martinez said he knew he had to take action when he saw Hernandez’s friends organizing efforts to bring him back as well.
“All the friends had this WhatsApp group chat going on, and she (Nguyen) invited me to it,” Martinez said. “Then I realized that there was a group of people who were ready to move and mobilize.”
Martinez and Nguyen said the community they found led them to help create the “BringEyvinHome” campaign to raise awareness of his detention and urge the U.S. government to take action.
The campaign has since employed several tactics to put pressure on officials and raise awareness for Hernandez’s detention, Martinez said. There is a Change.org petition with over 6,000 signatures calling for his release and an online fundraiser to ease the financial burden of the situation on his family.
On Jan. 18, the UCLA School of Law hosted a candlelight vigil for Hernandez at the Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Courtyard. Many of Hernandez’s friends and family attended, and speakers shared details of Hernandez’s situation from a podium.
Mohammed Cato, Title IX director and Hernandez’s School of Law classmate, attended the vigil. He said he could feel the support and care for Hernandez from the number of people who attended. Cato, who first met Hernandez at a new student orientation for the law school, said he remembers Hernandez as an honest and caring man.
“There were people there that I hadn’t seen in years that showed up because of the love and respect that they have for Eyvin,” Cato said. “That’s just how well Eyvin has touched the lives of people that he’s met.”
Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, Nguyen said, pointing to support from several organizations and government officials, including LA Mayor Karen Bass and multiple congressional representatives. They voiced support for negotiations for Hernandez’s return and the U.S. government’s official designation that he is wrongfully detained.
In mid-January, Undergraduate Students Association Council President Carl King Jr. advocated for Hernandez’s release at a conference at the White House.
But Nguyen said the campaign is still waiting to hear from President Joe Biden, who they hope will secure Hernandez’s return. In an October press release, Biden said his administration remains dedicated to bringing back Americans who remain wrongfully detained abroad.
“There’s been several letters sent by multiple organizations, and we just had a letter sent by California (State) Senator Caroline Menjivar,” Nguyen said. “A plethora of letters sent to Biden, but no replies.”
Martinez also said the situation has taken a toll on his family, who grapple with his absence every day, noting the mental, financial and physical burden his family is experiencing.
“There are folks who have made this a full-time job at sacrifice of their own jobs, of their own time with their family,” Cato said. “There are a lot of people who are sacrificing to bring Eyvin back home, but that’s … the kind of person Eyvin is – he’s worth it.”