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: