Chavez releases Globovision president following international pressure

Guillermo Zuloaga, prexy of 24-hour Venezuelan news web Globovision was arrested Thursday evening, stoking fears that President Hugo Chavez is cracking down even harder on his critics.

He was released after the Organization of American States and human-rights groups had called for his release. However, he’s been warned not to leave the country, according to the New York Times.

Zuloaga was arrested for remarks considered “offensive” to Chavez, according to attorney general Luisa Ortega. The remarks were made at the Inter-American Press Assn. meeting in Aruba earlier this month, Ortega said. Zuloaga referred to Chavez’s crackdown on media and said the country lacked freedom of press.

Globovision is the last remaining opposition-leaning web on free TV in Venezuela. Chavez’s government is bent on tamping down media opposition in the face of chronic power shortages and waning popular support. Radio and TV stations have been shut down or harassed in recent years.

Globovision has resisted several attempts by the Chavez government to shut it down or been slapped with fines on various charges ranging from allegedly using unauthorized microwave transmissions to evading taxes on political ads. Zuloaga was charged with usury in connection to his car dealerships and even more bizarrely, for possible illegal possession of desiccated wildlife species, including deer, antelope, tigers and buffalo.

In February, Globovision director Alberto Federico Ravell, a stalwart critic of Chavez, was forced to resign from his post. Zuloaga then denied that he succumbed to government pressure to oust Ravell.

Move follows the near-demise of the country’s oldest web Radio Caracas TV Intl. (RCTV) after cable/satellite operators dropped it from their grid in January. RCTV was accused of violating new telecom rules, which require all national TV producers to air Chavez’s marathon speeches and only one commercial per show. RCTV lost its terrestrial broadcast license in 2007. A new RCTV Mundo is now on DirecTV but cable operators are not carrying it for fear of government reprisals. Massive layoffs have begun.

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