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Head of Venezuelan TV station: Raid of home was scare tactic

  • Story Highlights
  • Officials: Globovision excecutive's home raided in "car-smuggling" investigation
  • Independent Globovision is last broadcaster to openly criticize Hugo Chavez
  • Executive Guillermo Zuloaga, partner in car dealership, says all cars were legal
  • "They took advantage of the situation to try to scare me," Zuloaga told CNN
By Arthur Brice
CNN
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(CNN) -- The head of an independent Venezuelan TV station that has criticized President Hugo Chavez said Friday officials were trying to frighten him when they raided one of his homes in what authorities called a car-smuggling investigation.

Journalists work in Globovision's newsroom. President Chavez has accused the station of "media terrorism."

Guillermo Zuloaga, seen in 2008, is head of Venezuelan TV news network Globovision.

Thursday night's massive search in suburban Caracas concerned 24 vehicles parked at an estate belonging to Globovision executive Guillermo Zuloaga, who also is a partner in a Toyota dealership. He said he uses the home as an office.

The vehicles, he said, were legally acquired through the car dealership and were in the process of being turned over to their new owners.

"They took advantage of the situation to try to scare me," Zuloaga told CNN en Español on Friday.

Globovision is the sole remaining national broadcaster in Venezuela that is openly critical of Chavez.

The Venezuelan leader has threatened to close down Globovision, calling the station "terrorists" who are trying to bring down his leftist government.

Speaking on national TV Friday, Chavez said no political motive was behind the raid. Without mentioning him by name, Chavez said Zuloaga was violating the law with so many cars parked there.

"The owner of the house at the same time owns a television channel," Chavez said. "They believe they are exempt from punishment because for them there are no laws.

"They start to say that Chavez is persecuting them. No, no, no. They are violating the law and we have to end impunity for all time."

Some analysts are not so sure that was Chavez's intent.

"It certainly appears as if it's one more step toward asserting authoritarian control over the country by intimidating the media," said Robert Pastor, who was National Security adviser for Latin America under President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

"It's hard to know if there's any justification for this action," Pastor said, "but given other steps he has taken against legitimately elected opposition and fundamental institutions of the state, it's fine for the international community to ask if this is based on legitimate concerns or if it's one more effort to dominate the politics of Venezuela."

Independent groups have said Chavez has systematically brought other institutions under his direct control, including the judiciary, congress, the central bank and the powerful state petroleum company.

Chavez has a long antagonistic relationship with TV stations, newspapers and other media, many of which have been harshly critical .

"For the most part, the media is not part of the loyal opposition. They are the lethal opposition. They are always looking for Chavez's jugular vein," said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs policy institute.

Chavez's pushback came to a head two years ago when the government did not renew the broadcast license for RCTV, another independent broadcaster. The station had to go off the public airwaves and transmit solely on cable.

Other TV stations seemed to get the message, a watchdog group said.

"Televen and Venevision hung on to their frequencies by adjusting their editorial line," the Reporters Without Borders press organization said in its 2009 World Report, referring to two national TV stations. "Globovision alone kept up its criticism of the government."

As a result, Chavez frequently criticizes the station. At a joint news conference last week with Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Chavez lambasted what he called "terrorists" who use the airwaves to subvert his rule. It is a complaint he makes often.

"Chavez has a personal odium for Globovision because of the history involved," Birns said.

Chavez's efforts appear to be paying off.

"After years of 'media war,' Hugo Chavez and his government took control of almost the entire broadcast sector [in 2008]," Reporters Without Borders said in its 2009 report.

Thursday's raid was carried out because an "important group of hidden vehicles were found," police chief Wilmer Flores Trossel said.

The raid concerns 24 vehicles, including nine Toyota cars, Flores Trossel added.

"These vehicles have serial numbers that must be identified to establish their legality, their condition and their documentation," he said.

Investigators obtained a judicial order before undertaking the raid, Flores Trossel said.

Video of the raid shows a chaotic scene, with people shoving and trying to talk loudly over each other.

Perla Jaimes, a Zuloaga attorney, tried to stop officials from entering the compound through a narrow gate.

"You have to respect what this order says, which means we have to read it together," Jaimes told an official. Both clutched copies of the court order, waving them at each other.

Later, the gate door opened forcefully, hitting Jaimes while she stood with her back to it. She stumbled forward as a man was heard complaining that more care must be taken with a woman.

Zuloaga said in an interview on Globovision Thursday night that 100-150 police officials took part in the raid "instead of taking care of the streets of Venezuela, which are so dangerous."

The station delayed broadcasting images of the raid for almost an hour because it happened as Chavez was delivering a televised address about his plans to nationalize certain businesses.

Venezuelan law says Chavez's speeches and official acts must be carried live and in their entirety or else the stations face a fine or suspension.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the official broadcasts "are sometimes devoted to commemorations, more often to propaganda and almost always to diatribes against the enemies of the Bolivarian revolution.

"Hugo Chavez made 1,816 of these speeches between the date of his first mandate on 2 February 1999 and 19 December 2008, talking for a total of 1,179 hours, equal to 49 full days."

All About Hugo ChavezVenezuelaGlobovisionReporters Without Borders

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