CARACAS – The president of opposition-aligned Venezuelan TV network Globovision, Guillermo Zuloaga, was briefly arrested for alleged offensive remarks made against President Hugo Chavez, a move that prompted criticism from the administration’s opponents.
Zuloaga was detained Thursday morning at an airport in northwestern Venezuela as he was preparing to travel by private plane to the island of Bonaire, part of the Netherlands Antilles.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega said later that an investigation had been launched against the TV executive for remarks at a recent meeting of the Inter-American Press Association in Aruba, in which he blamed Chavez for the shooting of protesters during a coup that briefly ousted the leftist president.
Ortega added that Zuloaga could face several charges for “offensive or slanderous remarks” and also for “spreading false information.”
The arrest warrant, the AG said, was issued because Zuloaga was trying to flee the country.
Following his arrest, the president of Globovision, the only remaining station on the open airwaves that is critical of the Chavez government, appeared before a judge in Caracas for more than two hours.
The judge released Zuloaga but barred him from leaving the country pending the results of the investigation.
“It was a surprising day,” Zuloaga told reporters upon exiting the courthouse. The TV executive expressed thanks to his supporters and denied that he had intended to flee the country.
“I went to an airport where I was last week. Even the national guardsmen greeted me by name ... I wasn’t fleeing anything,” he said.
“They say I caused anxiety with some statements I made at an IAPA meeting ... I mentioned a series of well-known historical facts because they were making false accusations against me.”
“They say the remarks were offensive ... I said the president deployed the army to the streets.”
The arrest of Zuloaga prompted immediate criticism both inside and outside Venezuela.
The erstwhile director of Globovision, Alberto Federico Ravell, said Zuloaga is suffering the same consequences suffered by all who are “dissidents of a government that is seemingly not acting in conformity with the law.”
For his part, IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre said from Miami that the arrest was an “attack on civil rights” and “an aggression against the Venezuelan people’s right to receive information and express themselves.”
But the president of Venezuela’s unicameral National Assembly, Chavez ally Cilia Flores, said that the decision of the AG’s office was consistent with the law and stressed that “there are no political prisoners” in Venezuela.
Zuloaga, who also owns several auto dealerships, was investigated for alleged usury last year in connection with 24 new vehicles found at his residence. Authorities said he was suspected of keeping them off the market while waiting to sell them later at an excessive markup.
Venezuelan authorities in 2007 declined to renew the broadcast license of another TV station critical of Chavez, RCTV, while two other stations toned down their criticism of him after he defeated a move to remove him from office in a 2004 recall referendum. EFE