Venezuelan Navy Captain Accused of Rebellion Dies After Signs of Torture
CARACAS — A Venezuelan Navy captain accused by the government of plotting a rebellion has died in custody a week after his arrest, underlining President Nicolás Maduro’s increasingly ferocious repression campaign amid a spiraling economic crisis.
The captain, Rafael Acosta, is the first of more than 100 active and retired Venezuelan officers jailed by the government on treason charges to die in custody after allegations of torture.
A military judge told Captain Acosta’s legal team on Saturday that the officer had died in a military hospital the previous night, said his lawyer, Alonso Medina Roa. Captain Acosta was detained last Friday and charged with treason and conspiring to rebel. He denied the charges.
Mr. Medina Roa said the captain had been detained in good health but was in a wheelchair when he was brought into a courthouse on Friday. The lawyer said his client was struggling to speak or move, showed visible signs of beatings, and kept repeating the word “help” to his legal team.
He was taken to a hospital from the courthouse and died hours later, the lawyer said.
Venezuela’s information minister, Jorge Rodríguez, a close adviser to Mr. Maduro, confirmed Captain Acosta’s death on Saturday night and asked the country’s attorney general to investigate the “unfortunate event,” without providing details.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, condemned the captain’s death, adding in a message on Twitter that “the crimes of Nicolás Maduro won’t be left unpunished.”
Captain Acosta was one of half a dozen former and active officers who have been detained in the past week over allegations of plotting to overthrow Mr. Maduro. On Wednesday, Mr. Rodríguez presented a video purporting to show Captain Acosta discussing coup plans on a conference call. The video could not be independently confirmed.
Mr. Maduro has survived one coup and one assassination attempt in the past two years, as the country’s economic collapse has weakened his grip on power. His government, however, has also repeatedly used unconfirmed coup accusations to jail and repress political opponents and instill fear in the armed forces.
Last year, a detained opposition City Council member in Caracas, Fernando Albán Salazar, fell to his death from a window during his interrogation by intelligence officers. The government claimed it was a suicide.
Mr. Acosta was detained on the day that Mr. Maduro met with Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights commissioner, in Caracas. After the meeting, Ms. Bachelet said she had agreed with the government to evaluate its anti-torture policies.
Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment following news of Captain Acosta’s death.
His wife, Waleswka Pérez, told local reporters that her husband had done nothing beyond discussing in family circles Venezuela’s economic crisis and chronic corruption. She said she had not seen or heard from her husband since his detention.