The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions on Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) following the death of a naval captain who was detained on claims he was involved in a plot to assassinate Nicolas Maduro.
Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arevalo was detained June 21 and died days later. He showed signs of physical abuse when making a public appearance at a hearing prior to his death.
“The politically motivated arrest and tragic death of Captain Rafael Acosta was unwarranted and unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The U.S. took the action “to impose costs on Maduro-aligned officials for these abuses,” the State Department said.
Acosta was buried by government authorities against his family’s wishes, according to media reports citing lawyers for his relatives. Acosta’s sister identified the body, which was buried by the state under a court order, the lawyer said, adding that an autopsy showed he died of trauma.
Jose Zarate Zoto and Ascanio Tarisco Mejia, both lieutenants in the Bolivarian National Guard, were detained on charges of premeditated homicide related to Acosta’s death, according to an EFE report. Despite their arrest, it’s only the most recent display of brutality taken by DGCIM, the Treasury said, citing investigations by the United Nations, Organization of American States and Human Rights Watch.
Venezuelan security forces, particularly DGCIM, resort to practices such as torture or inhumane treatment “to extract information and confessions, intimidate and punish” detainees, the U.N.’s office on human rights said last Friday in a report. Detainees faced electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags, waterboarding, beatings, sexual violence, water and food deprivation, stress positions and exposure to extreme temperatures, the report said.
The report “represents a selective and openly biased vision of the true situation of human rights” in Venezuela, the country said in a response released by the U.N. office.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, said last week she was shocked by the alleged torture of Acosta, and that his treatment in custody may have been the cause of his death.