Was Venezuela's release of US filmmaker Timothy Tracy an olive branch?

Timothy Tracy was expelled from Venezuela today after spending more than a month in government detention for allegedly spying on behalf of the US.

Ministry of Interior and Justice/Reuters
Plain clothes policemen escort Timothy Hallet Tracy (c.) during his deportation to the US at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas in this handout photo provided by Venezuela's Ministry of Justice on June 5.

After more than a decade of tough talk and frigid foreign relations, the Maduro administration may have shown the first sign that Venezuela could be warming up to the United States. Timothy Tracy, an American documentary filmmaker, was released after spending more than a month in government detention for allegedly spying and planning unrest after Venezuela's April 14 presidential election.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres (@MRodriguezTorre) wrote on Twitter: "The American Timothy Hallet Tracy, who was caught spying in our country, has been expelled from the national territory." Mr. Tracy's lawyers said his film had nothing to do with Venezuela's national security.

Tracy made his way to Miami International Airport today, hours before a meeting between Venezuela's foreign minister, Elias Jaua, and US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to take place. The countries have been without ambassadors for three years. And while the Venezuelan government continues to insist the "gringo" filmmaker was "conspiring to start a civil war," analysts say the sudden release is meant as a show of good faith.

"It's a sign of rapprochement," says Elsa Cardozo, a professor of international relations at the Central University of Venezuela.

Ms. Cardozo says that given the country's current economic crisis, the move comes as no surprise. Venezuela's toilet paper troubles have been making headlines for weeks now, but consumers are struggling to find many staples, like milk, butter, and sugar as the inflation rate here remains one of world's highest, at about 30 percent.

Many believe the OPEC nation may now start looking abroad to solve its economic woes; recently appointed Finance Minister Nelson Merentes announced just last week he would soon travel to the US and Europe to speak with creditors and court additional foreign investment.

Even during times of strained relations under Hugo Chávez's administration, Venezuela could always depend on the oil-thirsty US to be one of its biggest buyers.

Will sending Tracy back to the US be enough to smooth over rocky US-Venezuelan relations? Perhaps not. But at the very least, Cardozo argues, the government may be realizing that “it's very hard to bring in new business when your investors are worried about being taken captive."

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