Venezuela prosecutor charging former National Guard chief
Venezuela's chief prosecutor charged the former head of the country's national guard Thursday with systemically violating human rights during three months of anti-government protests that have left nearly 80 people dead.
Luisa Ortega Diaz's office announced the charges against Antonio Benavides Torres a day after the nation's Supreme Court declared it was barring her from leaving Venezuela and ordering her bank accounts frozen. Maduro had announced he was replacing Benavides Torres last week and instead assigning him as government head of the capital district.
Ortega Diaz, a longtime loyalist of the socialist government who recently broke ranks with President Nicolas Maduro, said police and military officials are responsible for 23 protest deaths to date as well as 853 injuries. The figures released by Ortega Diaz's office Thursday indicate police and military officers are responsible for about a quarter of the deaths.
"In a great number of these incidents, there is evidence of excessive use of force in repressing protests," Venezuela's Public Ministry said in a statement, citing the use of unauthorized firearms and torture of those apprehended.
On a near daily basis, national guardsmen and police have launched tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators. Opposition leaders also blame armed pro-government groups known as "colectivos" for the violence.
Benavides Torres was one of seven Venezuelan officials sanctioned by then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015 for allegedly violating human rights against protesters during the 2014 demonstrations that left 43 people dead.