Venezuelan opposition candidate Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular pulled out of the presidential primary race on Tuesday to form an alliance with current opposition frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski of Primero Justicia. According to Dataánalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, Capriles leads López by 29 percentage points (45 to 16 percent) ahead of the February 12 primary elections.
One of the reasons Leopoldo López decided to pull out this late in the primary race was his precarious position as a candidate. He was barred from holding public office until 2014 over corruption charges; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this decision violated his political rights, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court dismissed this decision saying he could run for office but not hold office.
López decided to support Primero Justicia because of similarities in the electoral base. According to López: “We both have the same dream.”
President Hugo Chávez, who has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7th presidential election responded to the news: “They are all the same. They are the candidates of the Yankee Empire.” Recent polls show he remains popular with a 50 percent approval rating.
Although a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling earlier this week barred him from holding elected office, Leopoldo López, a leading opposition candidate, pledged yesterday to continue his presidential campaign. The Supreme Court mandated that the verdict reached last month by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) was “unfeasible.” The IACHR verdict in question demanded that Venezuela overturn a six-year ban on López holding public office, the former mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas, issued in 2008.
The ban successfully disqualified López from running for mayor of Caracas in 2008, and it attempts to do the same for the upcoming presidential contest. López founded the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) political party, which is part of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. Although the Supreme Court ruled that López could not hold public office, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales did say that López “can freely sign up and participate in elections.”
One day after the Supreme Court issued its decision, López wrote in a blog post, “Today I affirm my presidential candidacy because I am qualified in justice and in right.” López continued his defiance in a speech yesterday to supporters where he said, “I can and I am going to be a candidate for the presidency.” He is currently placing third in the polls among opposition candidates.
In a February 12, 2012, primary, the MUD will select its candidate to contest President Hugo Chávez. The presidential election is scheduled for October 7, 2012.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday held his first cabinet meeting since making a surprise return to Venezuela earlier this week, only days after admitting in Cuba that he is battling cancer. While he referred to his diagnosis many times during the meeting, Chávez showed no apparent signs of weakness and vowed to overcome his cancer by proclaiming, “We will win, and we will live.”
Contrary to reports from Venezuelan daily newspaper El Mundo that Chávez would remove Vice President Elías Jaua from power and replace him with current Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolas Maduro, Chávez instead announced that Jaua would remain in his post and that he had decided to extend the terms his cabinet members. Chávez also announced the creation of a new ministry of youth and appointed journalist Maria Pilar Hernandez as its first minister.
Oncologists suggest that if rumors that Chávez has advanced colon cancer are true, he could have as little as four to nine months left to live. In the run up to Venezuela’s presidential election in December 2012, top opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López have said that they prefer to see Chávez lose at the ballot box rather than to an illness. Chávez addressed these criticisms by telling his opponents, “You will never again govern the Venezuelan fatherland.”
The date is November 17, 1969. In San José, Costa Rica, the states of the Americas are about to decide what degree of protection to grant citizens’ political rights under the American Convention on Human Rights. After three days of discussion, the text of Article 23.2 reads as follows, “The law may regulate the exercise of the [political rights to vote and stand for election] only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, according to the case.” Suddenly, Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, the Brazilian delegate to the negotiating conference proposes all states to adhere to his country’s 1967 constitutional standard—to “erase ‘according to the case’, and add ‘or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings’.” The amendment is then approved by unanimity, and incorporated to the Convention.
On March 1-2, 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an international tribunal established also in 1969 and based in Costa Rica, sat to hear the case of Leopoldo López Mendoza v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The case goes as follows—in 2008, through two administrative resolutions alleging corruption, the Comptroller General of Venezuela disqualified the mayor of the Chacao Municipality, in Caracas, Leopoldo López, to run for office for six years. At the time of his disqualification, López was an almost certain winner of the race for mayor of metropolitan Caracas, the country’s largest electoral district.
Acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has argued that the administrative resolutions that disqualified him fall far below the “criminal sentence” standard set in the Convention, and requested the Court “to conclude and declare that the (Venezuelan) State violated the political rights (...) of Mr. Leopoldo López,” and, “to order the Venezuelan State” to reinstate them. On the other end, the Venezuelan State, represented by several attorneys and expert witnesses in Costa Rica, claimed that Leopoldo López’ disqualification is not only legitimate under Venezuelan domestic law, but that it is well within the margin of appreciation the Convention gives states in the regulation of human rights.
All arguments have been made and a final decision by the Court is expected in the next few months. Venezuela, which has participated fully in the proceedings, is bound to comply with it. Yet, this is no everyday case. On the one hand, López is now a potential candidate for the upcoming 2012 presidential elections, and his participation on the primaries that will define the opposition’s candidate, depends largely on this ruling. More widely, however, this particular decision could lead to the restitution of the political rights of thousands of people in the Americas who are at this time banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections.