The Wall Street Journal

Fugitive Venezuela TV Station Owner Zuloaga Flees Country
The Wall Street Journal

Guillermo Zuloaga, the owner of the last major television station in Venezuela critical of President Hugo Chavez, has fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest, a station representative confirmed Wednesday.

Observers are now wondering how much longer the government may allow Caracas-based Globovision to remain on the air, given its owner is an international fugitive. Government critics say shutting down the anti-Chavez station, if only temporarily, might work well for the ruling socialist party ahead of September legislative elections, which promise to see tight races. Authorities had Zuloaga in their hands back in March, when he was arrested for making allegedly « offensive and disrespectful » statements about Chavez on a television show.

In a case that appears to be related to the Zuloaga case, the government seized control Monday of a mid-sized bank called Banco Federal, claiming the bank was not meeting its liquidity requirements. The bank’s president, Nelson Mezerhane, is a major investor in Globovision, and Chavez critics say that connection is the actual reason the bank was seized. Bank officials claim they were meeting minimum liquidity requirements. Mezerhane, like his business partner Zuloaga, has been known to make critical remarks of Chavez in public. Mezerhane has also fled the country.

A former state governor, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, was arrested in March for saying on a television show that Venezuela has become a haven for drug traffickers. Chavez said such statements break a law that prohibits « spreading false information » or making any incendiary comments deemed threatening to peace and stability.