November 23, 2010 / 4:02 PM / 9 years ago

Venezuela TV owner denies Chavez murder plot

* Head of Globovision issues withering attack on Chavez

* Long-running political feud flares up again

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS, Nov 23 (Reuters) - An exiled Venezuelan television station owner denied accusations he is behind a $100 million plot to murder President Hugo Chavez and said the furor is a smokescreen to distract attention from the government’s failures.

“President, I do not want you dead,” Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of pro-opposition TV station Globovision, said in a statement from the United States late on Monday.

“I want you healthy so as to see you when you stand before Venezuelans, and perhaps beyond our borders, for your government’s bad rule and the vast fortune you have wasted.”

In an escalation of the long-running feud between Chavez’s socialist government and Globovision, the Venezuelan leader said at the weekend Zuloaga was one of those rounding up a $100 million reward to offer a potential assassin. [ID:nN20225217]

Since coming to power in 1999, Chavez has deeply polarized his country, winning about a dozen elections and referendums thanks to his support base among poor Venezuelans but infuriating many, especially the wealthy, with radical policies like nationalizations.

Chavez often has alleged plots to kill him.

His government has taken a tough line against critical media and Globovision remains the main thorn in its side with a daily diet of aggressively anti-Chavez news.

“PERMANENT HARASSMENT”

Irked by Zuloaga’s criticism of him at a Washington forum, Chavez has repeatedly urged Venezuelan judicial authorities to “do something” about Globovision in recent days.

“You know that in Venezuela the justice system has become your instrument, to pursue and frighten those of us who dare to criticize the government publicly,” said Zuloaga, who left Venezuela earlier this year alleging political persecution after being charged with fraud over his car dealership.

He denies that accusation, as well as the claim of a murder plot being cooked up at the Washington meeting.

“President, don’t make things up,” Zuloaga said in the statement he read to his own TV station.

In the withering attack on Chavez bound to escalate the dispute, Zuloaga said the Venezuelan leader had wrecked the nation’s most prosperous period thanks to high oil prices.

“After handling $990 billion dollars (of revenues), the only thing you have to show is the continent’s highest inflation, and the only country in the Americas with negative GDP, plus a load of expropriated companies who are today far less efficient than before, or failed altogether,” he said.

“Don’t try and switch the attention on to me.”

The dispute between the government and Globovision is just one of many tension points in the South American OPEC member nation where Chavez is pushing a self-styled “revolution” that supporters say is led by the people but critics say stamps on democracy.

“Formally speaking, there is freedom of expression in Venezuela,” wrote leading critic and editor Teodoro Petkoff in the anti-Chavez Tal Cual newspaper. “But in practice there is permanent harassment, systematic aggression against media.”

Chavez says the very existence of media like Globovision and Tal Cual demonstrates how free Venezuela is.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

((andrew.cawthorne@thomsonreuters.com; +58212 2772660)) Keywords: VENEZUELA TV/

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