Venezuela’s Intensifying Assault on Press Freedom

Jackson Diehl and Mary O’Grady write today in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, respectively, about Guillermo Zuloaga, critic of Hugo Chavez and owner of Globovision TV, the only remaining independent TV station in Venezuela.

Zuloaga has become an international symbol of press freedom as he and his station have come under increasing government harassment, especially in the past year. Last month, a Chavez controlled court issued an arrest warrant for Zuloaga and his son, and they went into hiding. In March, Zuloaga was arrested briefly for having spoken critically of the Venezuelan regime at an international conference. The government accused the Globovision head of criticizing the president and poisoning the minds of Venezuelans. Chavez has promised to shut down Globovision, as he did with Venezuela’s largest station in 2007 (RCTV), and he regularly vilifies the free press. The TV station and its reporters have come under countless physical attacks by government backed thugs. Last July, days after we announced that Zuloaga would speak at a Cato forum here in Washington, a court prevented him from leaving the country. Instead, he taped a video message for Cato and sent his son Carlos, the VP, to speak. (See the forum here. See Guillermo Zulloaga’s message to Cato by clicking on the second video link.)

Zuloaga and his son have now come out of hiding. A few of us met with him at Cato last week. He told us of numerous ways in which Chavez has violated Venezuelan laws and the constitution in his effort to harass Globovision, confirming a recent report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that documented the regime’s systemic violation of basic freedoms and its arbitrary use of criminal and administrative law against opponents.

Globovision is one of the last bastions of freedom in Venezuela. It is where Venezuelans go to hear news that will not be reported on one of the countless state-run TV stations. It is the media outlet to which Venezuelan civil society reports abuses by government when they happen, so as to most effectively defend itself. I can attest to that critical role that Globovision plays in Venezuela. As I reported from Caracas here in May of last year, the national guard tried to shut down a Cato seminar for Venezuelan students, an abuse that we immediately reported to Globovision, which in turn began reporting the harassment and thus pressuring the regime to back off.

As the economic, security and social conditions of Venezuela continue to spiral downward, Chavez will intensify his socialist revolution. If he finally does close Globovision, it should erase any lingering doubt about the authoritarian nature of the Bolivarian regime.