US puts Venezuelan intel officials on sanctions blacklist

A man in Caracas holds up a portrait of Venezuelan retired naval officer Rafael Acosta, who was allegedly tortured before his death

The US Treasury placed four senior Venezuelan military intelligence officials on its sanctions blacklist Friday, tying them to the death in custody of a navy captain who was allegedly tortured.

Division General Rafael Ramon Blanco Marrero, Colonel Hannover Esteban Guerrero Mijares, Major Alexander Enrique Granko Arteaga and Colonel Rafael Antonio Franco Quintero are officials of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), which was sanctioned as an entity on July 11.

"This action follows the arrest, physical abuse, and death of Venezuelan Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arevalo," the Treasury said.

Acosta was arrested in June on charges of plotting to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro.

He died in custody eight days later, after having appeared in court showing signs of physical abuse, according to the Treasury.

"The DGCIM, including these officials, has been accused of systemic human rights abuses and repressing dissent," the Treasury said.

The sanctions block any property controlled by the individuals under US jurisdiction, and forbid any Americans or companies with US presence from doing business with them.

The Treasury said the sanctions were not necessarily permanent and could be lifted on people "who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the government and combat corruption in Venezuela."

The US is one of the main backers of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who launched a challenge to Maduro's authority in January by declaring himself acting president.

Despite the support of more than 50 countries, he has been unable to dislodge Maduro, whom the opposition has branded a "usurper" over his re-election last year in a poll widely believed to have been rigged.

Representatives of the government and opposition were meeting this week in Barbados in ongoing talks, mediated by Norway, aimed at resolving the country's political crisis.

Speaking from Argentina, as part of a four-nation tour of Latin America, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Maduro would "never govern that country again."

"It will not happen. He may rule, he may for a moment control its military at some level, but he will never govern those people and he has destroyed their way of life," he said.

Guaido has repeatedly insisted that Maduro must make way for new presidential elections, a demand the socialist leader has flat-out rejected.

Pompeo insisted that "the Maduro regime is finished. It is only a matter of time before we can all begin to help the Venezuelans restore their democracy and restore their economy."