WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Wednesday denounced what it said was the Venezuelan government's "involvement" in the suspicious death of an opposition activist who authorities say evaded justice by throwing himself from the 10th floor of a police building.
Fernando Alban, a Caracas-area city councilman, was arrested Friday at the capital's international airport upon arrival from a trip to New York to galvanize world opinion against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government. Venezuela's chief prosecutor said Alban killed himself Monday.
Opposition leaders, backed by several foreign governments, have cast doubt on the official version, and accused Maduro's government of torture and killing Alban. The State Department denounced what it called a human rights violation, while Spain's government called for consultations with the Venezuelan ambassador in Madrid over the death.
"The United States condemns the Maduro regime's involvement" in Alban's death, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. She said the Trump administration would "continue to increase pressure on the Maduro regime and its insiders until democracy is restored in Venezuela."
Sanders said Alban died in the custody of Venezuela's intelligence service.
In Caracas, meanwhile, hundreds of mourners gathered at a church to pay their respects to Alban, filing by his closed casket adorned with a Venezuelan flag and portraits of the politician.
"They can silence one man, but his fight screams for liberty," said a handwritten message resting among the mementos.
Outside the church, mourners placed Alban's casket into a hearse and began a slow walk to the cemetery. They included Alban's parents and prominent allies from Venezuela's opposition movement.
"We want justice!" they chanted. "Maduro is a killer!"
The United Nations has urged officials in Caracas to launch an impartial investigation to resolve the conflicting versions of how Alban died.
The U.S. also has called for the immediate release of all Venezuelan political prisoners. The opposition claims that more than 100 Venezuelans opposed to Maduro are being held as political prisoners — some for more than four years, with little access to the outside world and their legal rights routinely trampled on. The government denies they are political prisoners.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his own condemnation, placing blame for Alban's death on Maduro's government.
"The regime continues to kill innocents & those standing up for democracy," Pence said. "We stand w/ the Venezuelan people & demand the release of political prisoners."
GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently held meetings in Venezuela with Maduro and his opponents. Corker has called Alban's death "disturbing."
Smith reported from Caracas.