Merida, October 10, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A thorough investigation is underway in Venezuela to examine the events concerning the death of Caracas councilman Fernando Alban, who died Monday. Authorities stated that he committed suicide by throwing himself from a tenth floor window moments before being taken to court.
Alban (56), a prominent member of the First Justice (PJ) party, had been arrested in Caracas airport last Friday arriving from New York. He was awaiting trial accused of frustrated magnicide (murder of the head of state) and conspiracy for his alleged involvement in the events of August 4, when two bomb-carrying drones exploded a short distance from President Nicolas Maduro on live TV.
He had served as a councilman for six years, and was apparently planning on retiring from politics to abandon Venezuela and live with his wife and children in the US.
Over the weekend, Venezuela’s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol had claimed that there was “plenty of evidence” of Alban’s involvement in the terrorist attack.
TeleSur journalist Madelein Garcia had also tweeted that “Alban has already stated that he was the link man of [accused ringleader of the attack] Julio Borges in Venezuela and received resources for the magnicide and [other] destabilising activities.”
Investigations into the August 4 presidential assassination attempt, as well as confessions from the on-the-ground suspects, have led to the arrests of nearly 30 people, including fellow First Justice lawmaker Juan Requesens. PJ leader and ex-President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Julio Borges, who is currently self-exiled in Colombia, has also been named in publicised confession tapes and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. So far, both Colombian and US authorities have failed to extradite Borges and a series of other citizens accused of being involved.
Borges, Requesens, and Alban were colleagues in the PJ party, which was prominent in the 2014 and 2017 street violence. They were frequently seen together and also had a close working relationship on the US-based lobby group which pushed the White House to impose sanctions on Venezuela. Should he have been found guilty of involvement in the assassination attempt, Alban faced a lengthy prison sentence.
News of the councilman’s death was made public by Venezuela’s Attorney General, Tarek William Saab, who confirmed on Monday that Alban had thrown himself from a window on the tenth floor of the headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Agency (SEBIN), where he was being held.
Reverol later added that “Whilst he was being moved to the courtroom and was in the waiting room of the SEBIN he threw himself from a window of the building, falling and causing his death.”
“The vice-Director of the police force has been instructed to form a multidisciplinary team to investigate,” he went on to say, describing the death as “regrettable.”
Saab later added that two special investigators have been assigned to the case, one a specialist in human rights, the other in homicides. “Be certain that here we will always get to the bottom of investigations and seek the truth,” he told the international community Wednesday.
Government critics question cause of death
Fellow members of PJ and of other right wing parties were quick to question the authorities account of events, claiming instead that SEBIN officers had tortured and murdered Alban, throwing his body from the window. They claimed that Alban was a religious man who was unlikely to have committed suicide.
Amid such allegations, right wing deputies of the defunct National Assembly and PJ activists held a funeral parade and vigil in Alban’s honour in Caracas Tuesday.
Whilst no evidence has so far been produced to back up opposition claims, Alban’s lawyer, Joel Garcia ─ who was one of the last men to see him alive ─ stated Sunday that “We could talk to him, he is satisfactorily well, a bit tired due to the intense interrogation.”
Garcia also commented that “He wasn’t beaten up, he was fine,” and clarified that all administrative procedures regarding the issuing of an arrest warrant had been correctly followed.
Alban’s autopsy report, which was given to his family Monday afternoon along with his remains, indicates the causes of death as “Severe cranioencephalic and facial trauma, secondary haemorrhagic shock, and abdominal, thoracic, and pelvic trauma caused by the fall.”
Speaking to press on Wednesday, Saab explained that the report proves that Alban was not killed by SEBIN officers but rather by the fall.
“The deceased presented multiple fractures in diverse areas (head, chest, and limbs) produced by his fall, with four wounds which showed signs of vital reaction, which determines that the victim was alive on the moment of impact,” he stated. Vital reaction is defined as “the response of a living organism to a trauma, response that does not theoretically appear when the traumatic agent exerts its action after death.”
Upon unveiling the autopsy results, Saab invited those who challenged the official findings to “audit” them. He also clarified alleged disparities between the events described by himself and Minister Reverol, explaining that Alban “asked to go to the bathroom and ran towards a panoramic window in the hallway which he threw himself out of.”
The Attorney General also suggested a possible motive for suicide, citing a large amount of audiovisual material on Alban’s phone. The content was not disclosed, but may be linked to the accusations he was facing.
International community joins opposition chorus
Right wing governments closely allied to Venezuela’s anti-government parties were also quick to exert pressure on Caracas, calling for an independent investigation into the death of Alban.
The US embassy in Caracas “strongly condemned” what they classed as “a new violation of human rights” and painted the death as “suspicious and violent.”
The White House later issued a public statement, in which it directly accused the Venezuelan government of being behind the death.
“The United States condemns the Maduro regime’s involvement in the death of Venezuelan opposition councilman Fernando Alban,” the statement read.
Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, was in Caracas at the time, where he reportedly met with government and opposition representatives, and described the tragedy as “disturbing.”
Back in Washington, Corker told press that he had had “a very good meeting with Maduro,” and that “we went down to get a sense of a way forward and there’s a couple of options.” Corker is due to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later today.
Today in Venezuela, Fernando Albán, a young opposition leader, died while in the government’s custody. This is disturbing and the government has a responsibility to ensure all understand how that could have happened.
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) October 9, 2018
Following the US’ lead, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and the UK, as well as the Lima Group and the European Union, also added their voices to calls for an investigation.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) also spoke out, stating that “There is much speculation of what happened, if it was suicide, if he was thrown, if he was mistreated, and this is why we need an independent and transparent investigation to clarify the circumstances of his death.”
“We will investigate all the events related to the situation of human rights in Venezuela,” elaborated Ravina Shamdasani from the UNHRC. “I cannot say at this point if this case will form part of the investigation or not.”