WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department on Thursday called for an independent examination to determine the true cause of death of former Venezuelan defense minister and retired general Raul Baduel, considered a political prisoner by the opposition.
Venezuela's attorney general said on Tuesday Baduel had died of cardio-respiratory failure connected with COVID-19.
"The recent death of Venezuelan political prisoner Raul Baduel reminds the world of the deplorable and dangerous conditions Venezuelan political prisoners face in the Maduro regime's custody," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
The United Nations Human Rights office has also called for Venezuela to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into Baduel's death and share the results with his family.
Neither the State Department nor the U.N. elaborated on why they believe an investigation is necessary into the cause of death.
Baduel's family has made statements casting doubt on the COVID-19 diagnosis, citing that he had received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Vaccines reduce the likelihood of but do not prevent death from COVID-19.
Venezuela's communications ministry and the attorney general's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Attorney General Tarek Saab said on Tuesday the ex-minister had been given all necessary medical care.
Baduel was arrested in 2009 on corruption charges after falling out with the Socialist Party. He was eventually placed on house arrest and then re-jailed in 2017 for allegedly conspiring against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The ex-minister was moved last month to a cell at offices of the Sebin intelligence police, which he shared with his son Josnars, who was arrested in May 2020 for allegedly participating in a failed incursion aimed at ousting Maduro.
Price said Washington calls for an immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Chris Gallagher; Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)