A court in the metropolitan area of Caracas sentenced Lieutenant Ascanio Antonio Tarascio and Sergeant Estiben Zárate, members of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dgicim), to 30 years in prison as being directly responsible for the murder of Lieutenant Commander Rafael Acosta Arévalo, which occurred two and a half years ago.
Acosta Arévalo was arrested in June 2019, accused of being involved in conspiracy activities against the Government of Nicolás Maduro. It was a particularly delicate political moment for Chavismo due to the marches of hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to demand a change of government.
The soldier died in the dungeons of the Military Counterintelligence Directorate one day after being presented in court under obvious signs of torture. He had been accused of hatching plans to assassinate members of the high government and accused of treason against the country, rebellion and military instigation. His death occurred on June 29, a few days after his capture, and caused enormous shock and outrage in national public opinion.
The autopsy revealed that Acosta Arévalo suffered respiratory failure due to multiple traumas as a result of the blows received during the interrogations he received. He fainted in the middle of the court hearing and the judge ordered that he be treated at the Military Hospital. His family could not see the body, and his burial was carried out in a controlled manner by the authorities.
Despite this ruling, neither the relatives of Acosta Arévalo, nor the defense attorneys, nor the human rights organizations are satisfied with the outcome of the case. Alonso Medina Roa, the family’s lawyer, stated that “the sentenced officials are the only ones who have been identified for their participation.” “The chain of command needs to be identified. The Military Counterintelligence Directorate is a dependency of the Ministry of Defense. In no military instance do things happen that are not known to superiors,” he added.
The defense of Acosta Arévalo has stated that the file for the death of the active soldier is still open in the International Criminal Court and that the next objective is, in addition, to investigate the doctors who silenced the torture against him. The Venezuelan Program for Human Rights Education and Action, the NGO Provea, stated on its Twitter account: “Captain Acosta Arévalo was the victim of forced disappearance and torture at the hands of the Dgcim. He had a broken nose, bruises, fractures and signs of burns, according to the United Nations Mission. Where is the research to the chains of command? We demand justice.”
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The Public Ministry initially accused Tarascio and Zárate of concausal preterintentional homicide, under the assumption that the defendants had no intention to kill. The UN Fact-Finding Mission included the case in its report and the Supreme Court of Justice ordered a repeat trial in October 2021, where new charges were filed.
For many observers and opposition activists, the judicial decision on these soldiers, like other recent ones that were previously denied, minimized or ignored, are a consequence of the investigations of the International Criminal Court against the Government of Nicolás Maduro.
“Two junior soldiers have been sentenced to the maximum sentence of 30 years for aggravated homicide and torture against Captain Acosta Arévalo. However, the country knows that those responsible for this happening are free without having been tried,” said Rocío San Miguel, director of the NGO Control Ciudadano, specializing in issues related to the military world.
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