CARACAS – Venezuelan authorities late on Saturday confirmed the death of a military officer who opposition leaders and family members said was tortured in custody after his detention over alleged involvement in a coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro.
The death of navy captain Rafael Acosta came on the heels of a visit by the United Nation’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to investigate rights violations ranging from extrajudicial killings to forced disappearances.
Chief prosecutor Tarek Saab said via Twitter his office was opening an investigation into the incident, without describing the cause of death.
Acosta was barely conscious in a court hearing on Friday after having been beaten and tortured, his wife Waleska Perez said in an interview with a Miami television statement, adding that he was then transferred to a military health centre.
“They tortured him so much that they killed him,” Perez said in an interview with EVTV Miami that was broadcast over Instagram. She said Acosta was detained on June 21.
Maduro last week said military officers, with the support of opposition politicians and foreign political leaders, had plotted to overthrow his government.
The ruling Socialist Party has overseen a devastating economic collapse of a once-prosperous nation. Maduro says the country’s problems are caused by sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
He says the country is unfairly targeted for criticism by foreign governments, and insists that his administration investigates and prosecutes human rights abusers.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency, said Acosta was murdered and that was further evidence that Maduro’s allies refuse to heed demands for a change of government.
“Do they not hear? From the grave, from basements where people are being tortured, the people (are calling for) a change,” said Guaido in remarks broadcast over the internet.
(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Vivian Sequera, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)