The Venezuelan government announced on October 8 that Fernando Albán Salazar, an opposition councilman charged with plotting to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro, took his own life. Official sources indicate Salazar jumped from the 10th floor of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) building in Caracas, where he was detained. Venezuelan opposition leaders have subsequently accused the intelligence services of torturing Albán, suggesting he might have been killed by government agents, either willingly or inadvertently during incarceration. Luis Almagro, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence have subsequently published statements giving credence to the opposition’s allegations, accusing the government of deliberately violating human rights of political opponents. Albán was reportedly taken into custody on October 5 at Caracas’ Simon Bolivar International Airport (CCS) upon arriving from New York, where he accompanied other members of his First Justice (PJ) party to a meeting with foreign dignitaries attending the United Nations’ General Assembly. In late September five South American countries requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Venezuela over alleged human right abuses. Additionally, on October 12 the U.S. Department of Treasury released a statement announcing an international consensus regarding financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government owing to illicit and corrupt financial flows coming from the country.
Recent years have witnessed the government’s willingness to repress dissent through forceful actions. These include violence on the part of security forces tasked with curtailing street protests and repeated detentions of opposition figures under contested charges. The government has additionally bypassed the opposition-led National Assembly (Congress), and has subsequently resorted to prosecute civilians in military courts with limited checks from civil authorities. As the government headed by President Maduro continues to subvert due political process, opposition activists claim security agencies have no regard for human rights, nor for that matter interest in safeguarding the health of prisoners. In view of these factors, the hypothesis blaming the government for Albán’s death cannot be ruled out at the moment. As the overall situation in the country becomes more unstable due to the ongoing economic crisis, the government will likely continue to crackdown on the opposition. International pressure in the form of sanctions has thus far proved ineffective in preventing authorities from exercising political intimidation against critics, and the government is unlikely to change course despite further financial sanctions or possible ICC-sponsored investigations over human rights violations.