Venezuelan soldiers death sparks call for probe

Rafael Acosta, the navy captain who died in custody in VenezuelaImage copyright
@waleswka77 on Twitter

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Navy captain Rafael Acosta in a tweet from opposition leader Juan Guaidó

Venezuela’s opposition has denounced the death of a navy captain held over an alleged plot to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro and called for an investigation.

Rafael Acosta, 49, was among six policemen and soldiers arrested on Wednesday.

They were detained weeks after a failed military uprising against Mr Maduro.

Facing charges of treason and sedition, Mr Acosta appeared in court on Friday, but fainted before proceedings began.

He was rushed to a military hospital in the capital, Caracas, but died in the early hours of Saturday morning, Venezuela’s defence ministry said in a statement.

“Despite providing him with the appropriate medical attention, he died,” the statement said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who orchestrated the attempted uprising against Mr Maduro on 30 April, claimed in a video that Mr Acosta was “savagely and brutally tortured”.

“This isn’t the first time in Venezuela we have denounced this type of act,” he said.

Mr Acosta’s wife, Waleska Perez, says the navy corvette captain was barely conscious when he appeared at the military tribunal in a wheelchair, with signs of torture visible on his body.

“They tortured him so much that they killed him,” Perez, speaking from Colombia, told TV channel EVTV Miami.

Venezuela’s government has said it will investigate Mr Acosta’s death, but has not elaborated on the cause or circumstances preceding it.

His death comes after UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet finished a visit to the country to investigate claims of human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

President Maduro has intensified a crackdown on the opposition since April’s failed military uprising.

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Mr Maduro is still being backed by military chiefs who are seen as crucial to him keeping power

More than 700 people have been detained in Venezuela for political reasons, including 100 members of the military, according to local rights group Foro Penal.

The crisis in Venezuela deepened in January after Mr Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president, arguing that Mr Maduro’s re-election last year had been “illegitimate”.

He has since been recognised by more than 50 countries, including the US and most of Latin America. But Mr Maduro retains the loyalty of most of the military and important allies such as China and Russia.

Mr Guaidó recently told the BBC’s James Menendez that the use of military force is still an option if Mr Maduro continues killing protesters.

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Media captionJuan Guaidó on how the political crisis may develop

Since April’s failed rebellion, described by Mr Maduro as part of a US-orchestrated coup, many opposition MPs have lost their parliamentary immunity and some have been arrested. While Mr Guaidó’s parliamentary immunity has been lifted, he has so far not been jailed.

Some four million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to the UN, amid a severe year-long economic crisis that has resulted in high unemployment and chronic shortages of food and medicine.

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