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US slaps Venezuela military intelligence body with new sanctions

US slaps Venezuela military intelligence body with new sanctions
The US Treasury Department said a new round of sanctions will be imposed on a Venezuelan military counter-intelligence organization, following the death of a Venezuelan military officer in government custody.

The sanctions will target the country’s Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), an agency tasked with combating espionage, the Treasury Department announced on Thursday, and will freeze all assets owned directly or indirectly by the agency.

The penalties come on the heels of the mysterious death of Venezuelan Navy Captain Rafael Ramon Acosta Arevalo, who was arrested on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government and died in custody in late June under suspicious circumstances. The sailor’s wife claims he was tortured.

“The politically motivated arrest and tragic death of Captain Rafael Acosta was unwarranted and unacceptable,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, adding that Washington was “committed” to ending President Nicolas Maduro’s “inhumane treatment” of political opponents.

Caracas has yet to respond to the new penalties.

The Venezuelan government has launched a probe into what happened to the officer, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry, which noted the captain “fainted before standing trial” and was taken to a military hospital in Caracas, where he later died. Two DGCIM officers have also been charged with homicide in connection with the incident, Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab said earlier this month.

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For years, the United States has maintained a raft of sanctions on Venezuela, including on the country’s all-important petroleum sector, on which the socialist government relies for revenues. Washington has also made no secret about supporting opposition figures in the Latin American nation, including opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself “interim president” in January with US backing.

Following a failed coup attempt in late April, which also received American support, the Venezuelan government has made a spate of arrests of military officers and others suspected of participating in the ill-fated regime change operation, which apparently included Acosta.

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