MIAMI (AP) — An emigre who once fled a right-wing strongman in Peru has made his U.S.-based television program a forum for hardline opponents of Venezuela's leftist President Nicolas Maduro — including some who are quite ready for the shedding of blood.
"I am a conspirator in favor of freedom," Jaime Bayly says.
Bayly's news and opinion program airs each weeknight on Mega TV, a relatively small network of Spanish-language stations around the United States. But YouTube videos of his programs are viewed by tens of thousands of people across the hemisphere.
Programs have frequently featured Venezuelan opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez and other critics of the Maduro administration, many of whom have encouraged their country's entrepreneurs and military officials to repudiate the embattled leader.
That campaign got a dramatic boost last week when the head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, Juan Guaido, a Lopez protege, proclaimed himself the country's interim president. The United States, Canada and a dozen regional nations quickly announced that they recognize Guaido — and not Maduro — as president, saying Maduro's re-election last May was a sham.
Hours after Guaido's announcement, Bayly was behind his wooden desk on television calling on members of Venezuela's all-important military to rally behind the National Assembly leader and maintaining that "the dictator Maduro has his hours counted."
Bayly says he has done nothing wrong, but his program has featured guests who openly advocate killing Maduro and quite a few of his supporters.
In a program following an Aug. 4 attempt to assassinate Maduro with explosives-laden drones, Bayly expressed regret it failed.
He also had a sympathetic exchange on the program with opposition activist Roberto Olivares, an occasional guest, who called toppling Maduro "a spiritual duty."
"What good is it to annihilate Maduro if Cabello takes office?" Bayley responded, referring to socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello.
However, Bayly then noted Maduro's denunciations of assassination plots and said: "But it seems to me that's the natural consequence of all the evil he has done, no?"
With no objection from Bayly, Olivares proposed "a civilian-military junta, more military than civilian, that at a minimum would impose order for six months, a year, to be able to clean up certain radical factions on their side who are going to remain in the country and have to be eliminated as well, and eliminate them is kill them, full stop."
Maduro has taken note of such statements, accusing Bayly of conspiring with the U.S. to remove him from power and saying he had proof the political commentator was involved in the done attack.
"It's easy for a U.S. television station to direct the death of a president," Maduro said. "What would happen if a braggart like this one, from a Venezuelan TV station, ordered the assassination of the president of the United States? We would prosecute him, because that is a serious crime."
David Smilde, a professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Tulane University, said the Federal Communications Commission has never paid as much attention to Spanish-language media as it should.
"Jaime Bayly engages in speech that can reasonably be said to incite violence," Smilde said. "It is doubtful that an English-language show with this content would be able to operate without FCC investigations or impediments."
Bayly says that before the drone incident, a group of soldiers told him of the planned attack.
"I didn't know if it was true or false. They told me: 'Let's kill him with drones,'" the commentator told The Associated Press in a December interview at his home in Key Biscayne, an island near Miami where dozens of wealthy Venezuelan families live.
"They wanted money to hide or to plot a second conspiracy," Bayly said, adding that he made calls soliciting support to exiled Venezuelan businessman and U.S. officials, but without success. He did not identify the people he called.
Bayly insisted he played no direct role in violent plots to bring down Maduro.
"No, it doesn't come to that," he said. "It's about promoting it, persuading people that it's the best option."
"I ask rich Venezuelans, free in exile, to understand that they are the ones who have to solve the problem," Bayly said.
A well-known novelist and journalist in Peru, Bayley fled to the United States in 1992 during the strong-arm government of Alberto Fujimori. After Fujimori was driven from power in 2000, Bayley began returning home and dabbling in politics, and several times toyed publicly with a presidential run.
Speaking slowly, he reiterated his disdain for both right-wing and left-wing dictatorships and said he is solely taking a stand against abuse of power.
"You have to be transparent," he said.
Bayly said he has been threatened because of his opposition to Maduro. After the assassination attempt, Bayly said, his car was rammed against a lamp post. The attacker managed to flee.
"I do not know if they wanted to scare me or if they wanted to kill me," he said.
Bayly said he feels afraid at times, but tries to focus on his job: putting the news in context and giving his owns opinion.
"I prefer not to think about that because if I let myself be trapped by fear, I don't leave my house, I don't do the program," he said.
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.