Venezuela political prisoner dies of Covid

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Then Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (L) and his minister of defense Raul Isaias Baduel are seen in December 2006 (AFP/Jenny FUNG)

An army general who aligned with Venezuela's late Hugo Chavez but later broke ranks with the socialist strongman and spent years as a prominent political prisoner has died of Covid-19 while in custody, officials said Tuesday.

"We regret the death of Raul Isaias Baduel from cardiorespiratory arrest as a consequence of Covid-19," prosecutor general Tarek Saab posted on Twitter.

Baduel, 66, had received an initial Covid-19 vaccination and "was receiving appropriate medical care," Saab added.

Baduel's family said they learned of his death via Twitter.

"I have not received a call from any person in the government," his wife Cruz Zambrano de Baduel told the EVTV internet channel.

She was skeptical that her husband, whom she had last seen four weeks ago, had contracted Covid at all.

"It is not true," she said, pointing to his recent vaccination.

Baduel was Chavez's defense minister, and helped reinstate the president after the April 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power.

The minister served almost eight years on corruption charges. After his release in 2015, he was jailed again on charges of conspiracy against current President Nicolas Maduro.

Baduel's death means "there are now 10 political prisoners who have died in custody" since 2015, said Gonzalo Himiob, a lawyer for the human rights NGO Foro Penal.

"The responsibility for the life and health of any detainee rests with the state. Medical treatment is continuously required for prisoners," Himiob tweeted.

Two of Baduel's sons have also been arrested on allegations of conspiracy. One, Raul Emilio, is at large.

The other, Josnars Adolfo Baduel, was arrested for alleged participation in a failed maritime invasion in 2019 that sought to overthrow Maduro. He is still in custody.

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