Venezuela takes yet another step towards becoming a Sean Penn Paradise. Hugo Chavez had Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision Television, arrested for allegedly making offensive comments about Chavez, a crime in Hugo’s fiefdom these days. And it’s not the only significant person now in prison for insulting the President-for-Life, either:
Today, the Venezuelan government arrested Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision Television, the only remaining television on public airwaves critical of Hugo Chavez. According to the government, Zuloaga made offensive comments about Chavez (which is against the law in Venezuela) while speaking at a conference of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in Aruba, where media representatives criticized the Venezuelan regime’s crackdown on freedom of speech. …
“It is becoming a crime to have an opinion.” That’s how Carlos Zuloaga summed it up this afternoon when he referred to this incident and the recent arrest of former Venezuelan state governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz for having said during a Globovision interview that Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking haven.
How will hemispheric leaders and the Organization of American States react to this renewed attack on free speech in Venezuela?
Hemispheric leaders such as the Castro Brothers and Daniel Ortega? I’d doubt we’ll hear much from them. After all, Cuba has done much worse to its internal critics, and Nicaragua isn’t following too far behind Chavez now.
How about hemispheric leader Barack Obama? Our President intervened when Honduras took action against Manuel Zelaya’s attempted power grab by … siding with Zelaya, and with Chavez, the Castro Brothers, and Ortega. But if the case of Zuloaga doesn’t generate some outrage from the White House, how about the case of Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, the opposition leader jailed under the same statute?
Chávez’s crony courts have charged Álvarez Paz with conspiracy, “public instigation of criminality” and “spreading false information”–crimes that could draw sentences of 13 to 27 years. Álvarez Paz was indicted for televised statements on March 8 acknowledging the fact that Venezuela has become a haven for drug trafficking and citing accusations by a Spanish court that the Chávez regime supports Basque and Colombian terrorists.
Álvarez Paz’s real crime is that of being the clear-headed conscience of Venezuela’s opposition. The 67-year-old former governor of the State of Zulia who sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1993, Álvarez Paz has gained notoriety for his weekly columns in which he chronicles his country’s tragic, inexorable march to dictatorship under Chávez.
Laughably, the government of Venezuela sent out this press release on Wednesday (I’m somehow on their mailing list) attempting to defend Alvarez Paz’ arrest:
1) This case is a legal one, not a political one. Mr. Alvarez Paz’s detention comes as a consequence of a court’s granting of an arrest warrant for an alleged criminal act. The warrant was granted in accordance with provisions of the Organic Penal Process Code (Código Orgánico Procesal Penal, or COPP, in Spanish), specifically those outlined in Articles 296-A, 132 and 285.
2) Mr. Alvarez Paz was arrested and charged with the crimes of conspiracy, public incitement to delinquency and dissemination of false information.
3) Mr. Alvarez Paz enjoys all the constitutional rights, protections and guarantees granted to all Venezuelan citizens, including the right to a defense. In an interview after his detention, Mr. Alvarez Paz confirmed to the press that his legal rights have been maintained.
4) Today preliminary proceedings court no. 25 ruled that Mr. Alvarez Paz should remain detained during the investigation of this case due to fears of his possible flight from the country.
5) That this case is being openly discussed inside Venezuela serves as evidence of the freedom of expression that exists in the country.
Sure! Venezuelans are very obviously free to express the entire gamut of political thought that exists between support of Hugo Chavez and absolute, slavish devotion to Hugo Chavez. The only thing missing here is the assignment of rectal cancer to Alvarez and Zuloaga. Since Obama saw fit to interfere in an internal issue in Honduras, where’s the outrage over Chavez’ political inquisition in Venezuela?
Update: Slightly off topic, but my good friend Val Prieto of Babalublog is covering a massive protest rally against the Cuban government in Florida, led by Gloria Estefan. Start with the first link, then click through his several posts on the rally.