Photo: El Nacional, retrieved

Navy captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo, arrested by the Military Counterintelligence Directorate (DGCIM), was missing since June 21st until, five days later, regime Communication minister Jorge Rodríguez accused him on TV of being involved in an alleged coup. He was publicly seen two days later, when he was taken to his preliminary hearing in a military court with obvious signs of violence, on a wheelchair and with poor mobility. The captain’s wife, Waleska Pérez, denounced his serious physical condition by torture and requested protection from the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, because her husband’s life was in danger. Hours later, early on Saturday, June 29th, Acosta Arévalo died. Everything happened under State custody. This Saturday night, the regime confirmed the death through statements; none deny the torture, or the reports that torture was the likely cause of death.

Justifying torture

Jorge Rodríguez issued a statement to incriminate Acosta Arévalo, to strip him from his condition of victim and accuse  for crimes he was formally indicted for in court: terrorism, sedition and frustrated magnicide. Regardless of how much emphasis he placed on describing the alleged coup, or the captain’s alleged role in it, nothing justifies torture or his death, nothing changes the fact that the captain died being innocent and under State custody. 

Nicolás issued a statement asking the Prosecutor’s Office “a complete and exhaustive investigation to clarify this regrettable incident,” as exhaustive, perhaps, as the ones opened for the deaths of Rodolfo González Martínez (the Aviator,) of council members Carlos Andrés García and Fernando Albán, or Corpoelec worker Ángel Sequera, all killed under State custody in strange circumstances. The statement is an aberration, but the campaign in the public media system (which includes the repetition of the video of Rodríguez’s public accusation against the captain,) completes an effort that seems to justify torture and normalize repression.

The impossible investigation

Indifferent to the complaints of torture and murder, and forgetting that the Constitution establishes that the State “is responsible for the lives of people in prison (…) or subject to its authority in any other way,” ANC-imposed Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab answered Nicolás’ call, explaining that captain Acosta Arévalo “was being presented before court for his alleged involvement in an attempted magnicide and coup” and announced that he appointed the 86th Prosecutor of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas with competence in Human Rights to determine the causes and responsibilities of the case. 

Meanwhile, José Ignacio Hernández, Special Attorney appointed by Juan Guaidó, cautioned that “according to International Law and the Constitution, the regime is responsible for the captain’s death, which makes an investigation impossible.” Hernández says this because the institutions that should investigate human rights violations are under regime control. 

The Venezuelan justice system degenerated in a corrupt instrument in service of power. By the way: the so-called Ombudsman Alfredo Ruiz hasn’t said a word.

The military version

In their statement, the Armed Forces have a different account about Acosta Arévalo’s murder, “who remained in custody under a military criminal investigation.” According to this version, on Friday, June 28th, the captain was presented before the military judge and before the preliminary hearing could start, he fainted, so the judge ordered him taken to the military hospital “where he died despite the due medical attention,” and since then, they activated protocols with the Scientific Police (CICPC) and the Prosecutor’s Office for his autopsy, to determine the causes of the death. The Armed Forces restate that Nicolás demanded an in-depth investigation “ratifying (…) the Venezuelan State’s policy of invariable respect for human rights, particularly the right to life,” the phrase is an unnecessary excess, considering that the instances involved in the detention, enforced disappearance, torture, media slander and murder, are part of this State that invariably tortures detainees.

Following the protocol

Alonso Medina Roa, lawyer of captain Acosta Arévalo, said yesterday afternoon that two DGCIM agents have been arrested and “they’ll be taken to court in the next few hours, accused as the authors of the homicide (…) they’re to be accused of homicide, ignoring the legislation against torture.” 

It’s highly probable that the regime will again use the card of the agent who overstepped his functions (as if torture was an anomaly and not the norm) and who will be punished “with the entire weight of the law.” But finding scapegoats doesn’t clear the responsibility of the rest of the system that allowed the torture, so when crimes against humanity are tried, the Statute of Rome says that guilt is equal among those who commit them, those who order them, those who fail to prevent them and those who remain silent. The minimum chain of command in this case would mean also investigating Nicolás, Padrino López and DGCIM director Iván Hernández Dala. By the way, just a few days ago, these actors promised UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to adjust the protocols for the fight against torture to international standards.

Movements on the board

Various media outlets say that the representatives of the regime and the opposition will resume discussions to seek an end to the crisis, and that it’s not yet defined whether the meeting will take place in Oslo or in Barbuda. 

While we wait for any of the groups to ratify this information, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero quit his role as mediator in our crisis and announced his decision to work in the problems of Spain. He won’t be idle, with the quarrel that Vox filed against him. But perhaps this resignation is only the first of many, because Mexico and Cuba already announced their plan of cooperation in health, which will mean that Mexico will receive Cuban doctors, even though Manuel López Obrador vehemently denied this possibility in December. The statements of Vladimir Putin to the Financial Times were a mixture of key messages about Venezuela: that there are no Russian troops here; that they’ve invested in our oil, so what; that they’re letting us solve our problems by ourselves (or let Nicolás kill whomever he wants,) and that, if Guaidó wins an election, “they’ll work with him”; a phrase he always use to discredit the way he was sworn in as caretaker President.

In the regime’s version about captain Acosta Arévalo’s murder, there’s still a huge loophole: why Nicolás ordered an investigation, if Arévalo’s human rights and due process were respected. This is a case of torture within a system that legitimized it as State policy. Any investigation carried out by an institutional body controlled by the regime is illegitimate. We must keep denouncing, narrating what’s happening. We must go on.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.