Venezuela ex-governor to remain in jail without bail over drug
Alvarez Paz said in a TV program that Venezuela has become a
drug-trafficking hub. Opponents say his arrest is the latest effort by
President Hugo Chavez's government to suppress dissent.
By Mery Mogollon and Chris Kraul
March 25, 2010
from Bogota, Colombia, and Caracas, Venezuela -- A Venezuelan judge on
Wednesday ordered a former state governor and critic of President Hugo
Chavez to remain in custody without bail while facing charges of
conspiracy, incitement and spreading false information.
The incorrect information, government prosecutors said, was an
assertion by former Zulia state Gov. Oswaldo Alvarez Paz in a March 8
television program that Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking hub.
"Venezuela has converted into a center of operations that facilitates
the business of drug trafficking," Alvarez Paz said without directly
accusing Chavez of being involved in illicit activity.
To many, including the U.S. State Department and several foreign
counternarcotics agencies, Alvarez Paz's allegation rings true.
Increased seizures of drug shipments from Venezuela and detection of
suspected drug flights from clandestine airstrips here point to a sharp
increase in trafficking over the last decade.
In 2006, U.S. Embassy officials said the amount of cocaine moving
through Venezuela had quintupled since 2001 to more than 250 tons a
year. The flow represented an estimated one-quarter to one-third of the
cocaine produced by Colombia.
Human Rights Watch and other rights groups decried Alvarez Paz's arrest
Tuesday at his Caracas home as an attack on freedom of expression. The
former presidential candidate faces up to 16 years in jail if convicted.
Alvarez Paz's son, Santiago Alvarez, told reporters Wednesday after
emerging from the court that the judge refused to release his father
during the legal process because she deemed him a flight risk.
Opponents say the arrest is the latest effort by Chavez's government to
suppress dissent. In May 2007, Chavez refused to renew the license of
the nation's most popular TV network, RCTV, and more recently he has
threatened to close Globovision, the remaining broadcaster critical of
On Wednesday, Congressman Manuel Villalba, a Chavez supporter, asked
prosecutors to investigate Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga for
having broadcast Alvarez Paz's remarks.
This month, Chavez said he would talk to the attorney general
about regulating the Internet, which he said is "poisoning the minds of
2010 Los Angeles Times