The U.S. on Thursday sanctioned Venezuela's counterintelligence directorate over the death of a Venezuelan Navy captain who died in Venezuelan military custody.
The family of Captain Rafael Acosta allege he was brutally tortured to death while in the custody of La Direccion General de Contrainteligencia Militar, Venezuela's counterintelligence agency, following government accusations Acosta participated in a plot to assassinate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Acosta's remains were buried Wednesday over the opposition of family members who want an independent autopsy, and have urged an UN inquiry into his death.
"The politically motivated arrest and tragic death of Captain Rafael Acosta was unwarranted and unacceptable," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the directorate's blacklisting. "Treasury is committed to ending the former Maduro regime’s inhumane treatment of political opponents, innocent civilians, and members of the military in an effort to suppress dissent."
He was referring to the Maduro government, which the U.S. no longer recognizes. Washington, along with the majority of American nations, instead back opposition leader Juan Guaido in the political stalemate that has been ongoing since January.
As a result of the directorate's designation all property it owns subject to U.S. jurisdiction has been frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from conducting business with the agency.
Venezuela's economy has been in precipitous decline following a global downturn in the price of crude oil, the country's chief export.
Nearly 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day because of "instability and uncertainty" amid a crisis over the presidency and economy, and 3 million Venezuelans have already left the country since 2015, according to the UN's refugee agency.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington