Four Venezuelan officers arrested by the government’s Military Counterintelligence Directorate are missing and their relatives are being pressured to remain silent under threat of death, people close to the case said.
The officers — a colonel, two lieutenant colonels and a navy captain — were imprisoned by the regime of Nicolás Maduro on suspicion of rebellion. Their relatives lost all contact with them 10 days ago, after the prisoners demanded that the authorities allow the representatives of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights to enter the directorate facilities in Caracas.
Fears about the safety of the officers have been heightened by news that Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo died after being tortured in the same facility.
But the officers’ relatives who live in Venezuela have decided to remain silent.
”The families do not want to talk because they are afraid of being killed,” said opposition Deputy Delsa Solórzano, referring to the cases of army Lt. Col. Igber Marín Chaparro, air force Lt. Col. Ruperto Molina, navy Capt. Luis De La Sotta, and national guard Col. Juan Francisco Rodríguez Dos Ramos.
”We are not talking about normal circumstances. We are talking about a circumstance in which you can be killed and thrown off a balcony, as was the case of [opposition politician] Fernando Albán, or kill him so that his body can be disappeared, which is what happens in our country,“ he added.
The body of Acosta Arévalo was not handed over to his family. He was buried directly to avoid being subjected to an independent autopsy.
Albán’s case became news in October 2018, when he died a few days after being arrested. The regime announced that Albán had committed suicide, jumping from the 10th floor of the Caracas headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service.
His friends in the opposition said he was tortured to death and that his body was then thrown off the 10th floor to hide the treatment to which he’d been subjected.
One of the relatives of the detained soldiers, who lives in Venezuela, confirmed that the families have been threatened. When contacted by el Nuevo Herald, he said: “I cannot give statements. We are under threat. All the relatives of the officers are in the same situation. ... I hope you can understand me. “
More than 150 soldiers are being held in the prisons of the regime, a trend that has become increasingly common as discontent rises. The use of torture and extrajudicial killings has also become more common, according to the latest reports on human rights violations published in recent months.
Molly De La Sotta, who lives in the United States, agreed to talk with el Nuevo Herald about her brother, the navy captain with the same last name.
She said he was last seen on Saturday, July 6, when he was visited by his mother, and on that occasion he admitted that he feared for his life because he had been directly threatened with death by Col. Hannover Guerrero, who has been identified as one of the main people responsible for torture within the directorate.
”Most of them are sick, because they do not get any sun, do not get any fresh air, do not receive medical treatment,” Molly De La Sotta said. “He is quite scared. Being in a basement, locked up with these people threatening him is stressful.“ She said Guerrero warned her brother that “he would not come out alive.”
The captain, who headed a commando unit, was subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment since he was arrested at his military base in Turiamo, about 150 kilometers east of Caracas, his sister said.
Transferred by helicopter to the capital, De La Sotta was accused of conspiring with other soldiers in one of the various plots that the regime said it dismantled last year.
”He was lying on the floor for four days, with his hands behind him, the handcuffs tight, which caused cuts around his wrists. They hooded him, hit him with a wooden stick, used tear gas on him, caused him to suffocate [with plastic bags]. So he was in a room for four days, without food, without water, without anything, “said Molly De La Sotta.
”They wanted to force him to plead guilty to conspiring with the United States, Colombia” and with opposition leader María Corina Machado, she added.
Despite the torture, De La Sotta has maintained his innocence.
Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter: @DelgadoAntonioM