By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuelan prosecutors issued an arrest warrant Friday for the owner of the country’s only remaining pro-opposition television channel. Guillermo Zuloaga, the well-known president of the Globovision channel, has been critical of President Hugo Chavez and is a frequent target of authorities.
Zuloaga’s son was also named in the warrant. The charges against the father and son are linked to a 2009 case in which they were accused of improperly storing 24 new Toyotas. Security officers could not find either man at Zuloaga’s home.
The senior Zuloaga, in addition to owning Globovision, owns and operates some car dealerships. Authorities claim that he and his son were keeping the Toyotas off the market, waiting for prices to rise. The charges had been dropped months ago, after prosecutors reviewed the case. Zuloaga has denied any wrongdoing, speculating that the charges were an attempt to intimidate him. He said the vehicles had been stored for safekeeping after one of his dealerships had been robbed. The arrest warrant appeared just one week after President Chavez publicly lamented that Zuloaga remained free.
A statement from the prosecutors’ office on Friday read: “The police are now working on capturing both citizens, who must be presented before a tribunal which will decide what legal measures to adopt.” The statement went on to say that both Zuloagas could also be charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, which alone could carry a 2 to 5 year jail sentence.
Zuloaga is no stranger to conflicts with Venezuelan authorities. In March, he was arrested and detained for hours after making “offensive and disrespectful” remarks about President Chavez on a television show. Zuloaga had commented on his worries about restricted freedom of expression in Venezuela.
Earlier this year, the Organization of American States voiced concerns about Venezuela’s use of punitive power to silence opponents. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report stating that Chavez constrains freedom of expression and has restricted human rights. The Commission urged Venezuela to avoid using any means to silence criticism or allegations against the government. In response, President Chavez called the report “garbage.”
Alejandro Aguirre, the president of the Inter-American Press Association in Aruba, condemned the arrest warrant against Zuloaga. “Once again it’s been shown that in Venezuela there’s no independence of powers, an essential value of democracy, since the judicial branch seems to act every time the president speaks or orders it,” Aguirre stated.
Globovision has been the only anti-Chavez television channel on air since a similar channel, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite TV in January.
For more information, please see:
Voice of America-Venezuela Orders Arrest of Anti-Chavez TV Boss-12 June 2010
AP-TV channel owner ordered arrested in Venezuela-12 June 2010
Wall Street Journal-Venezuela Issues Arrest Warrant For Anti-Chavez Businessman-11 June 2010