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.
It’s a war against freedom of expression.