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US targets Venezuela intelligence agency with sanctions

The tomb of Navy Captain Rafael Acosta lies at the East cemetery in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday July 10, 2019. Acosta, a Venezuelan navy captain who died of suspected torture while in government custody, was buried by authorities against the family's wishes to perform a private ceremony, an attorney and relatives said.

LEONARDO FERNANDEZ/AP

By SCOTT SMITH | Associated Press | Published: July 11, 2019

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Trump administration imposed sanctions Thursday on Venezuela's military intelligence agency, which is accused of torturing to death a navy captain in its custody.

The latest move by the U.S. Treasury Department to pressure President Nicolás Maduro from power followed another round of negotiations in Barbados between Maduro's government and opposition leaders aimed at ending Venezuela's political crisis.

Maduro's spokesman Jorge Rodriguez said the talks moderated by Norway that closed Wednesday resulted in a successful exchange but gave no details and it wasn't immediately clear if any agreements had been reached.

The U.S.-backed opposition is demanding early presidential elections, contending that Maduro's reelection last year was invalid.

The new U.S. sanctions target Venezuela's General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence. The sanctions appear to be largely symbolic because they prohibit Americans' dealings with the agency, which likely has few already.

The agency arrested Capt. Rafael Acosta on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Maduro. His attorney says he showed signs of torture before dying after a court appearance.

"The politically motivated arrest and tragic death ... was unwarranted and unacceptable," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Mnuchin said Treasury is committed to ending the Maduro regime's "inhumane treatment of political opponents, innocent civilians, and members of the military in an effort to suppress dissent."

The Trump administration has sanctioned dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Maduro, accusing them stealing from the once-wealthy nation's coffers for personal gain while using the funds to repress critics.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet recently published a report accusing Venezuelan officials of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and measures to erode democratic institutions.

Maduro says the United State seeks to replace him with a puppet government headed by opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó amid an economic war against his socialist country.

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