Brave Thinkers November 2010

Guillermo Zuloaga

Antony Hare

Sitting in the lounge of Washington, D.C.’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel in his French cuffs, Guillermo Zuloaga hardly looks like a media terrorist. But that is what Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has branded the TV exec and the journalists working under him at Globovisión—the country’s last independent TV station. When Zuloaga launched the news channel in 1994, it was purely a business proposition. “Globovisión wasn’t founded with the idea of taking sides,” he says. “But Chávez declared war on the media.” Earlier this year, the socialist leader shuttered the country’s largest TV station, and he has co-opted others. Aided by public support, Zuloaga’s network became a strident voice of opposition, and the CEO emerged from the corner office as more than a suit. At a press-association meeting in March in Aruba, Zuloaga took the floor to denounce media repression. He knew he would escalate tensions but, he says, “Venezuela is more important to me than any business I own.” His comments—deemed “offensive” to the president—got him arrested. International pressure won his release, but in June, an old controversy involving his family’s car dealership was resurrected by an attorney general eager to jail Zuloaga for “conspiracy” and “generic usury.” Tipped off, Zuloaga escaped at night, piloted a boat solo for 14 hours to an island off Venezuela’s coast, and eventually made it to the United States. Today, he is seeking asylum and running Globovisión by BlackBerry and Skype. Zuloaga so far has thwarted government interference at the station while fighting some 50 legal proceedings. “The day that there is something on our screen that doesn’t belong there is the day I pull the plug,” he says. If Chávez doesn’t pull it first.

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Martha Brant is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

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