Venezuelan arrest warrant troubles CPJ

June 13, 2010 11:11 AM ET

We made the following statement today after the Venezuelan government issued an arrest warrant for Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovisión, on usury and conspiracy charges.
“The fact that the warrant came a week after President Hugo Chávez publicly lamented that Zuloaga remained free is alarming, especially since Globovisión has been the target of a barrage of government investigations,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior Americas program coordinator. “If the government is using Zuloaga’s prosecution as a pretext to silence and intimidate the only remaining critical broadcaster, the rights of citizens to be informed will be seriously restricted and Venezuela’s democracy will suffer yet another blow.”


Mr. Chavez wouldn’t probably qualify as a “smart man”, but his years of service in the army, and his grade of “Lt-Colonel” have made him aware of the crucial aspect of the time factor in any war.

Mr. Chavez knows that if he wants to drop bombs on his own country, he better wait for the Venezuelans to be stuck in front of their TV watching the Miss Universe contest or the World Cup, or ready to leave on holidays. That’s how the first bomb on Mr. Zuloaga (his first warrant arrest) was dropped just before Semana Santa (Easter Holiday), and the second one (his second warrant arrest, on him and his son) just before the World Cup. This guarantees Mr. Chavez somehow a level of non reaction both internally and externally.

The only mistake that Mr. Chavez did, time wise, would be the threat and the prediction of this arrest, during an appearance on public TV, made a few days before the General Attorney suddenly decided to act. His words were as clear as can be: “Mr. Zuloaga criticized me, and he his walking free, that’s a weakness of our judicial power, we have to look into that”

So for those who still have a look at the “other” news, looking at the charges may be puzzling: “Damaging the wild life environment by owning wild stuffed animals” (Mr. Zuloaga’s grandfather was a hunter, far before this was regulated or prohibited), “usury, by keeping 24 Toyota cars in his own house” (Mr. Zuloaga’s Toyota concessionary had been ransacked by the milice of Mr. Chavez few days prior to that), and… criticizing the President…

So one question comes to everybody’s mind: WHY? What is there behind this warrant against both Mr. Zuloaga and his son?  What is expecting Mr. Chavez to happen?

-Worst case scenario: They surrender themselves to the police, they are jailed, their trial may or may not happen, and anyway, the tribunals and the judges are in the hands of Mr. Chavez. Globovison, Mr. Zuloaga’s TV channel, the only opposition channel left in Venezuela, will be left decapitated, unable to work properly without its owner/GM, and in a matter of days will be silenced forever.

-Best case scenario: Mr. Zuloaga and his son leave the country (they have the means to do it, and smartly enough they have implicitly been given that option), “proving” by that their guilt, and at the same time that they have no “real love” for their country. Globovision will be instantly closed under the argument that its owner flew justice, leaving a free road to Mr. Chavez.

Why did Mr. Zuloaga and his son not surrender to the Venezuelan Police? Probably because they are weighing those options -and their consequences- for themselves, for their families, for their businesses and their employees, for a country that is already battered in all aspects.

Today Mr. Chavez said that the Zuloaga’s rights were guaranteed by Venezuelan laws, those same laws that he has changed so many times in his favor, those same laws that his judges and courts are supposed to apply, those same laws that allowed him to issue this arrest warrant without any ground.

Whatever decision Mr. Zuloaga and his son take, that will be an extremely difficult one, and above all a very brave one.

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