The United Nations, international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, and the United States have demanded clarification on the death in prison of former Venezuelan Minister of Defense, General (ret.) Raúl Isaías Baduel. On October 12, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced via Twitter the death of Baduel, age 66, due to cardiopulmonary arrest as a result of COVID-19.
Relatives of Baduel, who spent more than a decade in prison, rejected the official account, arguing that he had not contracted the virus and that the death was the result of a lack of medical care, Andreína Baduel, his daughter, told Diálogo. Baduel died in El Helicoide prison, headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN, in Spanish), in a cell he shared with his son, Josnars Adolfo Baduel, who was arrested with a group of Venezuelan military dissidents in May 2020.
On the same day that Baduel’s death was announced, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International director for the Americas, demanded clarification on these facts. “Raúl Baduel dies in State custody, days after his family denounced his transfer to El Helicoide and without any notification about his health. Gen. Baduel spent years in prison, detained under inhumane conditions,” Guevara-Rosas said on Twitter.
During a press conference in Washington, D.C. on October 14, U.S. Department of State spokesman Ned Price called for an independent investigation to “confirm the true cause of the death” of the general. “The recent death of Venezuelan political prisoner Raúl Baduel reminds the world of the deplorable and dangerous conditions Venezuelan political prisoners face under the Maduro regime’s custody,” Price said.
In a statement published that same day, the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela asked the Venezuelan regime “to carry out a prompt, thorough, transparent and independent investigation into the cause of death and to share the results with Gen. Baduel’s family.”
The general’s family members had warned about the possibility that the general’s ailments could have a fatal outcome. According to Andreína Baduel, when he was transferred to El Helicoide from the maximum-security detention center known as La Tumba (the Tomb), he was allowed to record a proof-of-life message to mitigate complaints about a possible forced disappearance. “On October 2, they gave us the recording, and that’s when we knew that his health was clearly deteriorating,” she said.
She recalled that he was complaining about the after-effects of an operation he underwent on December 23, 2020, when he had a hernia removed. “He needed post-surgical medical care, and they didn’t give it to him,” she said.
According to Andreína Baduel, in view of the scandal raised by a new death in custody, SEBIN tried to get Josnars Baduel to record a testimony to attribute his father’s death to COVID-19, but he refused.
From the top to the bottom
Baduel reached the top of the Venezuelan military structure after the political crisis of April 2002. Then President Hugo Chávez recognized him as the architect of the operation that took him from La Orchila naval base to Caracas, to reinstate him in power. In June 2006, Chávez promoted him to the rank of general in chief and appointed him minister of Defense, a position he held until his retirement, in July 2007.
Once his military career ended, Baduel distanced himself from Chávez, to the point that in 2008 he campaigned against him during the referendum to approve the draft of the new constitution, a vote that the ruling party lost.
Baduel was detained twice. In 2009, he was accused of inciting a rebellion, and remained imprisoned until 2015. Two years later, he would once again be deprived of liberty under orders of Nicolás Maduro.
According to the Venezuelan human rights nongovernmental organization Foro Penal, Baduel was the 10th political prisoner to die while in custody. On that same list is another service member: Commander Rafael Acosta Arévalo, who died in June 2019 as a result of the torture inflicted upon him by his captors from the Military Counterintelligence Directorate.