This holiday season, there was one family in Los Angeles that expected something they called a “Christmas miracle.” For the Hernandez family, there was one key factor: One person missing at their holiday table. Eyvin Hernandez, 44, a beloved son, father and brother, was wrongfully detained in Venezuela in March 2022.
Henry Martinez, Hernandez’s younger brother, told CALÓ NEWS that Eyvin had decided to go on a trip to Colombia as a small reward after working long hours and tireless days throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “He had been working so much and he loved to travel,” Martinez said. He left on March 18 and throughout the whole trip he was in constant communication with both our parents, daily.”
His return home is obstructed by the current legal situation he faces in the South American country. Hernandez can face up to 16 years in prison after being charged with criminal association and conspiracy by the Venezuelan government. Today, Hernandez is being held by DGCIM (the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence) a maximum security military prison, considered as one of the most notorious prisons in Caracas, Venezuela.
Hernandez’s family and friends call on the U.S. and Venezuelan governments to release Eyvin immediately.
As January signifies a new beginning, clean slate and excitement for many of us, for the Hernandez family it is a reminder that Eyvin has been away from his loved ones for ten months. His family never expected his vacation to Colombia to result in the arrest of Hernandez.
CALÓ NEWS spoke to relatives and friends of Eyvin about the importance of sharing his story in order to bring justice and attention to his wrongful detention.
MORE ABOUT EYVIN
Hernandez was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States when he was just a toddler. He has lived in several communities in Los Angeles, including Pico Union, Lawndale, Baldwin Village and South Central Los Angeles.
He earned his first bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduating from UCLA, he later attended UCLA School of Law, where he worked as an associate editor for the Chicanx-Latinx Law Review.
During his time at law school, Hernandez made friends and colleagues who are now working on his case to bring him back home. Those friendships were created while he was a mentor for the UCLA Law Fellows Program, which aims to recruit students from diverse backgrounds to attend UCLA School of Law.
Throughout his life, he has been a passionate advocate for Los Angeles’s most vulnerable residents. He helps people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. Hernandez has been working at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office since 2006.
“His most recent assignment was at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse, handling felony cases. Eyvin has also volunteered his time to advocate for children in the juvenile justice system,” according to his website.
THE KIDNAPPING AND ARREST
Days before returning home to LA, Hernandez accompanied a Venezuelan friend to Cucuta, a Colombian town, located near the Colombia-Venezuela border. His friend needed a passport stamp to travel to Venezuela. Martinez said although he was accompanying his friend, Hernandez had no intention of entering Venezuela.
They took a taxi to Cucutan, where a local offered to be their tour guide and lead them to the place where the stamp could be obtained. Martinez said after a 10-15 minute drive they were instructed to get off and follow a dirt path where they would find a booth that could provide the services they were looking for. A few minutes later, Hernandez and his friend were intercepted by masked men in civilian clothes. “We never found out who those men were, but after some investigation, we know they were probably part of a paramilitary group, a gang,“ Martinez said.
The men told Hernandez and his friend that if they wanted to cross to Venezuela, they would have to pay $100. Hernandez explained that they were not trying to cross to Venezuela and that he had no cash to give them. “They had their faces covered and put us in the back of a car,” Martinez said.
Hernandez and his friend were turned over to Venezuelan security forces and jailed. The friend is also still detained in Venezuela. “They saw my brother was an American and they did not hesitate to take him.”
FRIENDS FROM LAW SCHOOL
GLADIS URIBE, 43, LOS ANGELES, CEO PRINCIPAL OF LAW OFFICE OF GLADDYS J URIBE, SHE/HER, MEXICAN/AMERICAN
Gladis Uribe is the principal and lead attorney with the Law Office of Gladdys J. Uribe, P.C., an immigration law practice with offices in Culver City and Buellton, CA. During her time at the University of California, Los Angeles, Gladdys served as Co-Chair for MEChA and the UCLA La Raza Law Student Association.
Uribe met Hernandez when she was attending UCLA Law School. Hernandez was her La Raza mentor. “Back in the day, there weren’t many students of color that would go to law school,” Uribe said. La Raza Law Student Association, which is now called the Latinx Law Students Association, is an association run by Latinos to recruit and support graduate Latino law students.
“Eyvin went from being my mentor to quickly being one of my dearest and closest friends,” Uribe said.
Last year on Mother’s Day, Uribe found out what had happened to Hernandez. She said that everyone she went to law school with stayed in touch and were good friends because they moved in the same professional circles. One of Uribe’s closest friends, Yvonne Ballesteros, who also went to law school with Hernandez, texted a group through WhatsApp, saying “Hey guys, I just heard something crazy from our friend Rod. Something about Eyvin being in jail in Venezuela.”
In the wake of Hernandez’s disappearance, Henry Hernandez, Eyvin’s little brother, was able to confirm that Hernandez was detained.
Hernandez’s friends, including Uribe, began working together and formed a working group with about 40 of his law school friends and colleagues, who continue to stay in touch on a daily basis. “We always talk and strategize about ways to talk to our elected officials and the things that we can do to highlight and bring attention to what Eyvin is going through,” Uribe said.
One of the biggest successes of Hernandez’s case was that he was recently designated unlawfully detained last October by the U.S. Department. His case was later transferred from the Department of State to Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA).
“That was a really important designation for us because that means that SPEHA can actively try to get Eyvin home,” Uribe said.
CLAUDIA PEÑA, 43, ALTADENA, FACULTY AT UCLA SCHOOL OF LAW, SHE/HER, SALVADORAN/NICARAGUAN
Claudia Peña is a friend of Hernandez from the UCLA School of Law. She currently works at the law school where they met. Peña serves as the Faculty Co-Director of the UCLA Prison Education Program, where UCLA students learn from participants who are currently and formerly incarcerated. Peña met Hernandez in the year 2005 when they were both attending law school together. “He was part of a crew of people at UCLA School of Law at the time. We were doing incredible public service and social justice work. I remember going to an immigrant rights protest that I attended and that was within the few months that I had known him,” Peña said.
One day, Peña received an invitation to a WhatsApp Messenger group from a fellow colleague. Then she received a text message from two friends asking whether she had heard the news about Hernandez. By then, he had already been in prison in Venezuela for two months.
“Eyvin’s family was kind of waiting for what the government would do and Henry, Eyvin’s little brother was like, ‘Forget this, Eyvin is a lawyer, he has lawyer friends and I’m going to reach out to them and see what they can do.’ And after he did that, there were about 40 of us who were willing to support the cause in just a couple of days and have been working tirelessly ever since then,” Peña said.
Many of Hernandez’s colleagues are reaching out to people in the community, including to people who are now running nonprofits that might be helpful in communications.
“We’re all tapping our entire network to number one, get the word out there and raise awareness, number two, ensure that we have the resources to support Eyvin’s family and number three, to put the maximum pressure on the White House and anybody else in the position to do everything that it takes to bring Eyvin back home,” Peña said.
HENRY MARTINEZ, LOS ANGELES, EDUCATOR, HE/HIM, LATINO
Hernandez’s Younger Brother
When Hernandez suddenly stopped calling and texting his parents and his younger brother, Hernandez was afraid something was wrong. “On March 29, when he did not reply to my father’s messages and calls, at that time my dad did not think much of it, but a day later he asked me if I had any contact with him and I told him I had not, he had not replied to me either.”
On March 31, Hernandez began calling the local police and hospital in Medellin, Colombia, where Eyvin was staying. There was no luck. The next day, Henry reached the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. “I gave them a rundown of who my brother was and the circumstances we were facing. They said they would help in locating him.”
At this point, local Colombian authorities had also become involved. They searched Hernandez’s Airbnb to find everything as he had left it.
“Everything was there like he had just gone for a walk. His laptop was there, and his clothes and shoes were, too,” Martinez said. “I would have nightmares of having to go to Colombia and identify a body, that was the hardest thing during this time, not knowing where he was if he was alive or not.”
Hernandez was supposed to return home to LAX on April 3. The seat that corresponded to him on the plane from Colombia to Los Angeles was never filled and he never got off that plane.
The desperation had taken over the family and as Hernandez and his dad began making plans to fly to Colombia to look for Hernandez, they received a call that was bitter-sweet.
On April 4th, a public defender from LA County, who was in charge of representing Hernandez, notified the family that he was alive but detained.
That same day, Martinez heard his brother’s voice for the first time since he disappeared. “In that voicemail, he sounded calm, and told us what he was being charged with and said those accusations were false ‘I’m not a spy, I have not done anything wrong and without proof, they have to release me in 45 days.’”
It’s been 10 months and Martinez, along with the rest of his family, are still trying to get Hernandez back home to the U.S.
EFFORTS TO BRING HIM BACK HOME
In October 2021, after seven months of waiting for his hearings in Venezuela, the U.S. government finally classified Eyvin as “wrongfully detained.”
Hernandez said that even getting the classification was a difficult and long process, but hopes this enhances government attention.
“We want to bring awareness until it makes it to [President] Biden,” Martinez said.
A letter written and sent by LA County and California congressional representatives has made it to the White House asking for Hernandez’s release.
On Dec. 21, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro), and other government representatives signed and sent a letter to Biden, asking his administration to work to rapidly ensure Hernandez’s freedom, as stated by the final version of the letter.
Martinez said that he and his family have grown tired and sad of retelling Hernandez’s story over and over and not seeing any results but nonetheless will continue to advocate for his release.
“Every time that I talk to him, I know he’s waiting for me to give him some sort of good news, some hope, and I can’t. Many times, we do not know … the government is very secretive about things like this,” Martinez said. “I just tell him our family, his friends and colleagues are working hard on getting him back home and that we will not give up.”
On Wednesday, January 18 Eyvin’s family and friends will be hosting a candlelight vigil at UCLA. To learn more about Eyvin’s case, you can visit his website, and to RSVP to the candlelight click HERE.
Martinez said his parents and he are worried about Hernandez’s physical and mental health. “Different days differ. Sometimes when I talk to him, his spirits sound up and other days they don’t,” he said. “I know he is a strong person but being in a place like that can break even the strongest of people at some point.”