Venezuelan intelligence officers have raided the home of a Twitter user suspected of spreading destabilising rumours about the health of Hugo Chávez ahead of an inauguration that the ailing president looks increasingly unlikely to attend.
The alleged microblogger, Federico Medina Ravell is the cousin of a prominent opposition figure, prompting concerns that a long-simmering “information war” could be escalating as the government and its opponents try to fill the vacuum left by a leader who has not been seen or heard in public since he flew to Cuba for emergency cancer surgery a month ago.
The team of Sebin (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) officers confiscated several computers from Medina’s home in Valencia on Sunday night, according to domestic newspapers.
Medina is the cousin of Alberto Federico Ravell, a well-known opposition journalist and co-founder of Globovision, a major news broadcaster and staunch critic of the Chávez government.
Medina, who was not at home, is accused of instigating terrorism through social networking sites. He is said to be behind the @LucioQuincioC Twitter account, which has claimed that Chávez will not return from Havana.
Fausta’s blog readers may recall that Globovision has been in Chavez’s cross-hairs for several years. In 2011 Hugo Chavez’s dictatorship fined TV channel Globovision US$2.1 million over its coverage of the deadly prison riots at Rodeo prison. The fine equaled more than 7.5% of the station’s annual revenues. Guillermo Zuloaga, Globovision’s majority owner, had to flee Venezuela in 2010, following Chavez’s constant threats against him and the station.
RK: Is this the first time you or your family have been threatened?
FMR: My family has been harassed via phone, and now the government has threatened to confiscate my assets, under the claim that I am responsible for the terrorist twitter account @LucioQuincioC. Their only reason to persecute me is that I am a critic of the regime; I am the first cousin of Alberto Federico Ravell, co-founder of globovision.com TV channel, and lapatilla.com news; I am also an active member, despite being away from my homeland, of Progressive Front for Change, an opposition alliance, alongside Ismael Garcia, Henri Falcon and Juan Jose Molina.
Globovision was fined for its coverage of a prison riot that erupted in a prison in June after troops raided an adjacent prison looking for weapons. The raid set off gunfights that left three dead, and the standoff finally ended with negotiations after 27 days. Authorities said four inmates who escaped also were slain by soldiers.
Globovision’s vice president, Maria Fernanda Flores, called the fine “unpayable.” The channel has defended its coverage of the riot.
The fine equals more than 7.5% of the station’s annual revenues, and will likely bankrupt the station.
Long-term readers of this blog may recall that Guillermo Zuloaga, Globovision’s majority owner, had to flee Venezuela last year, following Chavez’s constant threats against him and the station.
In a two-hour presentation before the permanent council at the Organization of American States, Colombian OAS ambassador Luis Alfonso Hoyos laid out a series of photos, videos, maps, satellite images and computer documents that Colombia claims show the rebels using Venezuela as a safe haven much the same way they were using Ecuador.
Mr. Hoyos also charged that Venezuela knows about the guerrilla camps—some of which have been there for a long time—and has done nothing about them. Indeed, the Venezuelan National Guard sometimes consorts with the rebels, Mr. Hoyos said.
Given this new information, Mr. Chávez’s reaction to Colombia’s 2008 incursion into Ecuador now looks logical. Bogotá justified that raid on the grounds that its appeals to Quito to go after FARC taking rest and relaxation in its territory had gone nowhere. Now we know that Mr. Chávez had reason to believe he would be next.
But Mr. Uribe launched a different sort of offensive on Thursday. Instead of a military operation, he bundled new intelligence on the FARC’s Venezuelan outposts and dropped it like a bomb on the OAS permanent council.
The facts were no surprise. For years, Bogotá has been complaining—with no shortage of proof—about the friendly treatment Venezuela gives the guerrillas. But by packaging and delivering the new evidence as he did, Mr. Uribe put Mr. Chávez, very publicly, on the spot. More importantly, he has forced the issue with his hemispheric counterparts.
Mr. Hoyos told the OAS that there are some 1,500 rebels across the border in more than 75 camps. There they regroup, organize, train and prepare explosives. This safe-haven status, he explained, produces more kidnapping and drug trafficking on both sides of the border. And more carnage in Colombia: Graphic photos of rebel victims flashed on a screen while he spoke.
Mr. Hoyos did not call for sanctions against Venezuela. Instead he asked for an international commission to verify Colombia’s claims. He promised that his government could provide the “precise coordinates” of farms and haciendas where the rebels are ensconced. “If what is there is only a little school and humble peasants, there would be no problem with an international commission to verify if Colombia’s accusation is not true,” Mr. Hoyos argued.
The gang at Gomez Palacio were responsible for 33 murders in three incidents, including the massacre of 17 people at a rented hall filled mainly with young adults. They fired more than 120 rounds into the crowd; it was the bullet casings that led investigators back to Gomez Palacio. The prison director and three of his henchmen have been placed under house arrest, although considering this story, that may wind up being more secure than prison anyway.
This should impress the truth on people, which is that the problem in Mexico isn’t American guns, or any kind of guns at all. The problem in Mexico is corruption.
The director, who recently met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, also slammed the U.S. policy toward Iran as “horrible.”
“Iran isn’t necessarily the good guy,” said Stone. “[B]ut we don’t know the full story!”
The Scarface screenwriter had even more encouraging words for socialist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who Stone called “a brave, blunt, earthy” man. The director has recently been promoting his Chavez-praising documentary called “South of the Border.”
When the interviewer pointed out that Chavez has had a less-than-stellar record on human rights, Stone immediately dismissed the criticism.
“The internet’s fully free [in Venezuela],” said Stone. “You can say what the hell you like. Compare it with all the other countries: Mexico, Guatemala, above all Colombia, which is a joke.”
While Stone has not been as blunt about his views on Jews and the Holocaust in the past, he has been outspoken in his fondness for Chavez and his disagreements with the U.S.’s policy on Iran.
On ABC’s Good Morning America on July 28, the director told anchor George Stephanopoulos that he “absolutely” believes Chavez is a good person, and claimed that there was “there’s no pattern of censorship in this country [Venezuela].”
The principal owner of Venezuela’s last remaining opposition television station has fled the country, as President Hugo Chávez continues to ratchet up the pressure on his rivals months ahead of crucial September legislative elections.
Guillermo Zuloaga fled Venezuela after a warrant was issued for his arrest last week, a station representative confirmed.
“He’s no longer in Venezuela,” said Edith Ruiz, director of institutional relations at Mr. Zuloaga’s Globovision television station Wednesday. She said his exact whereabouts outside of Venezuela were unknown.
Venezuelan authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Zuloaga on Friday on charges that a car dealership his family owns had hoarded automobiles. Mr. Zuloaga denies the allegation.
In a call to Globovision earlier in the week, Mr. Zuloaga said the government’s accusation against him was trumped up for the sole purpose of shutting down the station.
Things have been getting progressively worse:
In March, Mr. Zuloaga was briefly arrested for saying on a television show that the nation lacked freedom of expression. But he was released after an international outcry.
Over the years, Mr. Chávez has moved to take over the airwaves, opening a plethora of state-run channels that give the president fawning coverage.
In 2007, the government went after private broadcasters, ordering that the license of the biggest and most outspoken broadcaster, RCTV, not be renewed. The move forced it off the airwaves. The government then later forced the channel off cable television as well.
Other TV broadcasters, cowed by the government, softened their coverage of the government. But Globovision has remained the exception, infuriating Chávez officials.
Mr. Zuloaga is the second major shareholder and director of the station to flee or refuse to return to the country in the last few days. Globovision director Nelson Mezerhane, who is also president of Banco Federal, a midsize bank seized by Venezuelan authorities Monday, said earlier this week he wouldn’t go back to Venezuela because he feared judicial persecution. Venezuelan authorities said the bank wasn’t meeting liquidity requirements, an allegation Mr. Mezerhane says is false.
Another Venezuelan journalist has been sentenced to four years in jail for “ofensa a funcionario público e injuria contra persona encargada de servicio público” offending a public functionary and injuring a person in charge of public service: Periodista venezolano condenado a casi 4 años de prisión
The owner of Venezuela’s only remaining TV channel that takes a critical line against President Hugo Chavez was arrested Thursday, raising concerns the government is carrying out a widening crackdown aimed at silencing opponents.
Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of Globovision, was arrested on a warrant for remarks that were deemed “offensive” to the president, Attorney General Luisa Ortega said.
Zuloaga said military intelligence agents detained him at an airport in the northwestern state of Falcon as he was preparing to fly on his private plane with his wife to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, where they planned to vacation.
The arrest could be a decisive development in Chavez’s drive to rein in a channel that he has accused of trying to undermine his government. Globovision has been the only stridently anti-Chavez channel left on the air since another opposition-aligned channel, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite TV in January. RCTV was booted off the open airwaves in 2007.
Ortega said prosecutors are investigating Zuloaga for remarks he made during a recent Inter American Press Association meeting on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, where he joined other media executives in criticizing Chavez’s government for limiting free speech and cracking down on critics.
Pro-Chavez lawmaker Manuel Villalba urged prosecutors on Wednesday to investigate Zuloaga for allegedly saying that Venezuela’s government is cracking down on its critics and purportedly commenting that it was a shame that a short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez failed.
“He must assume his responsibility,” Villalba told state-run Radio Nacional. Zuloaga has not yet publicly responded to the accusations.
Arresting Zuloaga shows that Chavez’s government is “acting like a totalitarian government, like Cuba,” said Alejandro Aguirre, president of the Inter American Press Association, which is based in Miami and has clashed with Chavez for years on free-speech issues.
The charges are similar to the charges against Oswaldo Alvarez Paz; As you may recall, Alvares was arrested last Tuesday on charges of
conspiracy, public incitement to delinquency and dissemination of false information.
Zuloaga was arrested for
allegedly violating a law prohibiting Venezuelans from spreading “false information through any medium,” including newspapers, radio, television, e-mails or leaflets, “that cause public panic.”
Opposition politician Wilmer Azuaje, a member of the National Assembly, was also arrested this week for allegedly hitting a woman. Azuaje says he’s innocent, the charges are bogus and Chavez has him arrested for denouncing the Chavez family’s corruption. Azuaje says another deputy told him there would be no charges if he remained quiet. He was interviewed on Globovision (in Spanish) here:
The main message of his interview is that the participants at the Cedice conference on freedom and democracy:
“We have come to share the idea that political freedom is fundamental for Latin American civilization. The ideas that economic freedom and respect to private property are basic ingredients for prosperity.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Thursday to personally take action against an anti-government TV station if the nation’s authorities do not punish the channel, which expects to be closed.
He’s done it before (as readers of this blog know)
Two years ago Chavez refused to renew the license of Venezuela’s largest private television station, which was implicated in a brief coup against him. That provoked international criticism and anger in Venezuela but did not dent his popularity.
That station, RCTV, is now available only on cable systems and has ceased to be a political force.
In his speech at Cedice yesterday, Álvaro asked “why is [Chavez] so afraid of Globovisión, since he controls all the media?” During his press conference at Cedice he discussed the benefits of microloan programs.
And yesterday, a Chavista vice-minister for the Ministry of Communications and Information declared that
“si Globovisión y otros medios se comportaran así en otros países, hasta le darían pena de muerte a los dueños de medios”.
“If Globovisión and other media behaved this way in other countries, their owners would get the death penalty.”
The latest move to undermine opponents of the Leftist leader was made amid a frenetic campaign to seize control of privately held businesses, with his government running short of funds due to the fall in world oil prices.
Nicolas Maduro, the president of the Mr Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, accused the 24-hour news channel Globovision of “media terrorism”, describing the station and its director, Alberto Ravell, as “violators of the constitution and of the rights of Venezuelans” as well as being “anti-democratic, failed and fascist”.