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:
In today’s podcast at 11AM Eastern,
Former governor of the state of Zulia, and opposition presidential candidate Oswaldo Alvarez Paz has been jailed in Venezuela for stating that the country has become a drug-trafficking hub.
Here‘s the interview that got him in prison (in Spanish).
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington sent this statement,
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S.
Judiciary in Venezuela is Independent
Case Against Oswaldo Alvarez Paz is Legal, not Political
In response to the distortions and inaccuracies in the U.S. media coverage around the recent detention of Venezuelan citizen Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela would like to clarify the following points:
1) This case is a legal one, not a political one. Mr. Alvarez Paz’s detention comes as a consequence of a court’s granting of an arrest warrant for an alleged criminal act. The warrant was granted in accordance with provisions of the Organic Penal Process Code (Código Orgánico Procesal Penal, or COPP, in Spanish), specifically those outlined in Articles 296-A, 132 and 285.
2) Mr. Alvarez Paz was arrested and charged with the crimes of conspiracy, public incitement to delinquency and dissemination of false information.
3) Mr. Alvarez Paz enjoys all the constitutional rights, protections and guarantees granted to all Venezuelan citizens, including the right to a defense. In an interview after his detention, Mr. Alvarez Paz confirmed to the press that his legal rights have been maintained.
4) Today preliminary proceedings court no. 25 ruled that Mr. Alvarez Paz should remain detained during the investigation of this case due to fears of his possible flight from the country.
5) That this case is being openly discussed inside Venezuela serves as evidence of the freedom of expression that exists in the country.
While neither the Embassy nor the Executive Branch can explicitly comment on cases of this sort, it is important to clarify the legal nature of this case, stress that all of Mr. Alvarez Paz’s rights and guarantees are being fully respected, and leave clear the context and facts surrounding the case.
March 24, 2010
His lawyers are appealing the arrest. Alvarez has been accused of “solo conspiracy“, an oxymoron if there ever was one. A small group of demonstrators protested in front of the court building. Alvarez’s son Juan Carlos talked to the media during the protest.
The US Department of State expressed “serious concern” over the arrest.
Venezuela ex-governor to remain in jail without bail over drug remarks
Oswaldo Alvarez Paz said in a TV program that Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking hub. Opponents say his arrest is the latest effort by President Hugo Chavez’s government to suppress dissent.
A Venezuelan judge on Wednesday ordered a former state governor and critic of President Hugo Chavez to remain in custody without bail while facing charges of conspiracy, incitement and spreading false information.
The incorrect information, government prosecutors said, was an assertion by former Zulia state Gov. Oswaldo Alvarez Paz in a March 8 television program that Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking hub.
“Venezuela has converted into a center of operations that facilitates the business of drug trafficking,” Alvarez Paz said without directly accusing Chavez of being involved in illicit activity.
To many, including the U.S. State Department and several foreign counternarcotics agencies, Alvarez Paz’s allegation rings true. Increased seizures of drug shipments from Venezuela and detection of suspected drug flights from clandestine airstrips here point to a sharp increase in trafficking over the last decade.
In 2006, U.S. Embassy officials said the amount of cocaine moving through Venezuela had quintupled since 2001 to more than 250 tons a year. The flow represented an estimated one-quarter to one-third of the cocaine produced by Colombia.
Human Rights Watch and other rights groups decried Alvarez Paz’s arrest Tuesday at his Caracas home as an attack on freedom of expression. The former presidential candidate faces up to 16 years in jail if convicted.
The WSJ has an update on the upcoming elections:
The government began investigating Alvarez Paz last week after comments he made on “Hello, Citizen” a television program that tends to be anti-Chavez.
While being interviewed on the show aired March 8, Alvarez said: “Venezuela has turned into an operations center that facilitates the business of drug-trafficking.”
Such criticism is nothing new. The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress released a report last year that said Venezuela was fast becoming a major hub for cocaine trafficking in the Western Hemisphere.
Chavez slammed that report. Venezuela isn’t a major producer or consumer of drugs, Chavez pointed out. He said he was being blamed for drug-running simply because Venezuela is neighbor to the world’s largest producer of cocaine, Colombia, and an ideological enemy of the world’s largest consumer–the U.S.
Venezuela kicked the U.S. drug-fighting agency DEA out of the country several years ago and claims that it’s done a much better job of fighting the drug trade without it.
Alvarez Paz also claimed during the television show that the Chavez government has links to illegal, armed groups in Latin America.
Critics of Chavez have frequently claimed to have evidence showing that Chavez allows the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to use Venezuela as a safe haven from which to make camp and plan attacks on Colombian soil.
Chavez has publicly expressed sympathy for fallen FARC leaders, but has denied any links to the FARC or other outlaw groups.
First elected in 1998, Chavez, a self-proclaimed revolutionary Socialist, dismisses accusations that his administration trumps up criminal charges against political rivals as a way of silencing them.
He often responds by holding up a copy of the country’s Constitution, which he usually carries with him, and says his government is merely following the letter of the law.
Nonetheless, critics say an inordinate number of opposition leaders who might challenge Chavez’ rule have recently found themselves in trouble with the law.
Raul Baduel, a former defense minister-turned-Chavez-critic, was arrested on corruption charges last year and remains in prison awaiting trial. Baduel claims it was political.
Manuel Rosales, an opposition candidate who ran against Chavez in 2006, was also charged with corruption last year and has since fled to Peru. He denies the charges.
And Leopoldo Lopez, a young, well-respected former mayor of an opposition-dominated municipality in Caracas, has been denied from seeking political office due to an accusation of misuse of funds. He, too, denies the charges.
Manuel Villalba, a pro-Chavez lawmaker who filed the initial complaint against Alvarez Paz’ comments, rejected any notion that Alvarez Paz’ arrest was politically driven.
“There’s freedom of expression in Venezuela,” Villalba said. “But this can’t be confused with a license to stir up anxiety, instability and to rupture the peace of the people.”
It isn’t just political rivals that Chavez has been accused of silencing. He’s also closed dozens of television and radio stations that are critical of his rule. Earlier this month, he also indicated that controls need to be placed on the Internet, though he has since backed down from those comments.
At the blogs:
Venezuela News and Views Oswaldo Alvarez Paz in jail
The Devil’s Excrement: Chavez Government jails opposition leader, just because…
Caracas Chronicles Thoughtcrime