Officer dead ‘after torture’
The death of a captain in the Venezuela navy days after he was taken into custody by the Maduro regime has prompted international condemnation, with accusations that he was tortured.
The family of Rafael Acosta Arevalo, 49, said that he had been in good health when he was arrested on June 21 in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate President Maduro. On Friday he appeared in a military court in a wheelchair. His lawyer said that he showed signs of having been beaten and was barely conscious. He could only mouth ‘‘help me’’ repeatedly to his legal team.
The military judge, shocked by Captain Acosta Arevalo’s condition, ordered that he be taken to hospital immediately, according to opposition lawyers. The government confirmed his death hours later. His family have been denied access to the body.
The United States has said that it ‘‘condemns the killing and torture’’ of Captain Acosta Arevalo, ‘‘who died while in the custody of Maduro’s thugs and their Cuban advisers’’. The statement added: ‘‘This latest act of Maduro’s barbarism must stir us into action.’’
The European Union said that the death was ‘‘another stark illustration of the arbitrary nature of the judicial system’’ in Venezuela. The Lima Group, an organisation of regional powers,accused the Maduro government of ‘‘torture of individuals the regime considers dissidents’’.
Michelle Bachelet, head of the UN Human Rights Commission, who was in Venezuela last month to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, urged Venezuela to conduct an ‘‘indepth and thorough investigation, including an autopsy meeting international standards’’.
The government said that the navy captain’s death was regrettable and that it would investigate the circumstances. There are reports that two military intelligence officers who took part in his interrogation arrested.
Captain Acosta Arevalo’s widow, Waleswka Perez, has denied that her husband was involved in a plot to topple Maduro. She said that he had been privately critical of corruption only ‘‘within family circles’’. She has accused the government of murder. ‘‘They tortured him so much that they killed him,’’ she told a Miami TV station.
The acute political crisis escalated this year when Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, declared that he was Venezuela’s rightful leader, on the basis that Maduro, who has overseen one of the deepest recessions in economic history, had blatantly rigged last year’s elections. Mr Guaido, who has since been backed by most western democracies, has repeatedly called on the military to rebel against the government. On April 30 he made an attempt had been at an uprising but it failed when only a handful of soldiers defected to his side.
The Maduro government has since begun a determined crackdown against what it describes as ‘‘coup plotters’’. Captain Acosta Arevalo was one of half a dozen former and active officers to have been detained over the past fortnight.
Last week Jorge Rodriguez, the communication minister, presented a video claiming to show the officer discussing coup plans.
The content of the video could not be independently confirmed.
Talks between the opposition and government, hosted by Norway, were expected to take place this week in Barbados. The Associated Press reported that they had been suspended at the request of the opposition after Captain Acosta Arevalo’s death.