By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Both sides in the clash between the government and Globovisión, the private sector 24-hour news channel that readily points out the failures of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his government, brought out the heavy guns on Thursday.
The State Prosecutors’ Office issued a summons against Globovisión President Guillermo Zuloaga, citing him to be indicted in connection with a number of vehicles found during a raid on one of his residential properties. Zuloaga is due to present himself to be informed of formal charges on the morning of June 4.
Spokesmen for ToyoClub and Toyosan, two auto distribution companies that are said to be owned by Zuloaga – and also to have been in possession of the vehicles found at his residence in Los Chorros, east Caracas – had earlier said that he intended to sue the officials involved in the raid for defamation.
Officials claim the vehicles were being deliberately hoarded so that they could be sold at higher prices at a later date. However, while spokesmen for the prosecutors referred to numerous supposed breaches of the Penal Code, they did not go into detail about what the charges might actually involve.
The summons had been presaged by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz during an appearance on the state-run channel, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), where she had been joined by Commerce Minister Eduardo Samán. It was Samán who ordered the raid on Zuloaga’s residence.
Commenting on the number of vehicles which officials say they came across during the raid, Ortega Díaz also did not go into specifics. Instead, she said officials had encountered an “abnormal” situation there.
Despite signs that the authorities were about to throw the book at him, Zuloaga in turn seemed determined not to go quietly.
“I’m thinking of going to the courts against these officials and public employees paid with the money of the Venezuelans, and who have utilized time and space in the media to insult us and accuse us without any basis, any foundation, any procedure,” Zuloaga was quoted as having said.
Zuloaga’s case against the officials, it was said, would be based on the grounds that statements made by the officials had maligned him. The officials had publicly accused him of hoarding and usury, spokesmen said. Zuloaga denies that the cars had been deliberately hidden with the aim of making money.
Sporadic shortages of more or less anything – and of key food items in particular – have become an almost daily feature of life in Venezuela in recent years.
The government just as often accuses companies of deliberately hoarding products to create shortages and bring public pressure on the authorities to ease or end official price controls. The business community argues that it is the controls themselves that produce shortages, not least by placing inordinate bureaucratic procedures in the way of efficient distribution.
Chávez, who appears already to have decided in his own mind that Zuloaga is guilty of all he’s to be charged with, called on officialdom to be “
agile” in acting against media organizations that were “poisoning” the population. Most likely, Globovisión -- which officials claim distorts information in order to put as negative a slant as possible on government news -- was uppermost in the president’s mind.
The president, evidently unaware of what his critics claim is an ever diminishing separation of powers in Venezuela, specifically ordered Ortega Díaz and the Supreme Justice Tribunal to “comply with their duty.” That was what they were there for, and if not “they should resign so that somebody with courage takes over.”
Globovisión has once again provoked presidential ire by broadcasting an interview in which a guest drew a parallel between Chávez and the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. “He should be a prisoner because that’s a crime,” Chávez said.
Chávez frequently asserts that his foes – not only in Venezuela but also their supposed cohorts in Washington as well – of conspiring to assassinate him, and he did so yet again on Thursday. That was what “they” wanted, he claimed, painting a grim picture of what could happen were he to be terminated by whoever it is that’s supposedly out to get him.
“Imagine what could pass, how many years of tragedy would await our children and our grandchildren,” Chávez declared. The media had to change their ways so that they no longer poisoned the people. Critics see statements such as this as a blatant albeit tacit admission by Chávez that he intends only to tolerate media favorable to himself.
Chávez claimed journalists working for state television had come under attack as Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa arrived in Caracas on Wednesday. Normally pro-active against any attack on any journalists -- be they from the right or the left -- the National College of Journalists had not pronounced on this incident, Chávez said in the first public mention of any such incident.