Venezuela arrests TV execs after US firm pulls out

DirecTV managers “voluntarily surrendered” to authorities and were held at the intelligence service headquarters in Caracas, known as El Helicoide. (AFP)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Venezuela arrests TV execs after US firm pulls out

  • DirecTV’s departure leaves two million subscribers in limbo

CARACAS: Venezuelan authorities have detained three DirecTV executives after the US-owned television service’s decision to shut operations in the South American country due to US sanctions, their lawyer said.

“I hope there is justice in this country,” Carlos Villamizar, vice president of strategy for DirecTV, told reporters before surrendering himself.

Villamizar said that he was “very, very surprised,” at the warrant issued against him and his former colleagues Hector Rivero and Rodolfo Carrano.

He was accompanied by lawyer Jesus Loreto, who said the other two managers had “voluntarily surrendered” to authorities and were being held at the intelligence service headquarters in Caracas, known as El Helicoide.

Former DirecTV employees expressed solidarity with the trio on social networks, with the hashtag #DIRECTVSomosTodos (We are DirecTV) trending on Twitter.

The arrest warrants were issued almost three weeks after AT&T announced on May 19 its “immediate” withdrawal from the pay TV market in Venezuela, where it offered the DirecTV satellite platform.

Under the terms of its pay TV license granted by President Nicolas Maduro’s government, DirectTV was obliged to carry private news network Globovision and PDVSA TV.

Texas-based AT&T said that it was forced to close the television operation because US sanctions banned the transmission of Globovision and PDVSA TV, the channel of the Venezuelan state oil company.

The three arrested executives “did not participate in what happened, they did not know what was happening,” the lawyer said.

Three days after AT&T’s decision to close operations, Venezuela’s highest court ordered the seizure of the company’s facilities and equipment. The board of directors at the company that provides the DirecTV service in Venezuela, Galaxy Entertainment, have also been barred from leaving the country.

DirecTV’s departure has left two million subscribers in limbo, with soccer fans deprived of the popular Futbol Total program, which was broadcast by DirecTV Sports for Latin America.

Under Donald Trump, Washington has been seeking to oust the leftist Maduro and the Venezuelan president, many of his top government allies and PDVSA are all subject to US sanctions.


India opens vast railway network to private players

Updated 02 July 2020

India opens vast railway network to private players

  • The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily
  • India’s railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes
MUMBAI: India has opened up its vast railway sector to private companies, allowing firms to operate trains on certain routes, in a bid to boost its stuttering, virus-hit economy.
The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily but is plagued by deadly accidents, rickety infrastructure, lack of modern amenities and poor investment.
In an announcement late Wednesday, the railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes, inviting bids from firms weeks after New Delhi opened up coal mining to the private sector.
“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it added.
The project will require an investment of $39.8 million and private players will have to pay the government fixed haul charges and a percentage of profits determined during the bidding process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to privatize a range of industries that have been under state control for decades, sparking criticism from the opposition Congress party.
“Now the government is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways,” Congress politician Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.
“Privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady,” he added.
The tottering network is notorious for accidents, with 15,000 passengers killed every year according to a 2012 government report that described the deaths as a “massacre.”
Asia’s third-largest economy has been clobbered by the pandemic and a months-long lockdown, growing at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.
The shutdown, which put millions out of work overnight, is widely expected to plunge the country into recession.
Fears for the economy prompted the government to allow many businesses to resume operations starting last month despite an ongoing increase in infections, which have now crossed 600,000.
Even before Modi announced the lockdown in late March, the economy was struggling to gain traction with sluggish growth, record unemployment and a flurry of bad loans making banks reluctant to lend.