Americas Quarterly speaks with three former Venezuelan mayors who were among the 300 candidates barred from running in last November’s regional elections. Leopoldo López planned to run for mayor of Caracas, while Antonio Barreto and William Méndez hoped to compete for the governorships of Anzoátegui and Táchira, respectively
Americas Quarterly: Leopoldo, you were disqualified because of allegations that you used budgeted funds to cover unrelated municipal costs. Antonio, you were also accused of misusing funds. And William, the accusations levied against you focused on administrative charges while you were the head of Táchira’s Sports Institute. Can each of you respond to the charges?
López: None of these cases had any validity. But even if there were a basis for an investigation, it should have been done by a court. Our constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights clearly establish that a person can only be disqualified from competing in elections as a result of a conviction. This was not the case for me or for any of the disqualified candidates, and this is why we say that our human rights were violated. Disqualifications are valid only if there is the possibility for proper defense and due process, and a judge must approve the disqualification. But once we were disqualified, the disqualified candidates worked closely with the candidates that replaced us. As a result, opposition forces achieved victory in three of the five states where candidates had been disqualified.
Barreto: No validity. And because I was illegitimately disqualified, the people of Anzoátegui were prevented from exercising their democratic choice. The result was people felt less motivated to participate. And the substitute candidate, Gustavo Marcano, lost. In other elections, though, in Miranda, greater Caracas and Táchira, voters elected the substitutes for the disqualified candidates.Not coincidentally, the disqualification happened in four strategic elections: Táchira with William Méndez, which is a border state with Colombia; greater Caracas with Leopoldo López, where the position can easily serve as a platform for the presidency; and the state of Miranda with Enrique Mendoza. Greater Caracas together with Miranda forms the heart of Venezuela. And Anzoátegui, my state, is the most strategic due to its oil and gas desposits which include the Orinoco oil belt. And for obvious reasons, the government didn’t want a member of the opposition governing in the most resource-rich region of the country.
Méndez: Completely spurious. In my case, I was at the Sports Institute of Táchira in 1999 and 2000. The government audited me on the grounds that some receipts did not include the RIF (tax identification number) for payments made to a firm that provided lodging to cyclists. But the firm’s owners said that they received all the money and that the accounting problem was on their end. But even more to the point, in 2000, receipts did not need the RIF—the mandate that it be included was only started in 2003. But again, here, like the others, I haven’t been convicted. The last communication from the government—after almost eight years—was to tell me that the fine for these receipts was changed to a disqualification. But the disqualification law says that administrative cases expire after five years. My case has already lasted almost eight years…
Tags: Antonio Barreto, Enrique Mendoza, Human Rights, Leopoldo Lopez, Mayor of Caracas, Miranda, Orinoco oil belt, Venezuela, William Mendez