Anti-Corruption Laws Ban Opposition Candidate from Office; Inter-American Court Intervenes

This week Venezuela’s top legal official reiterated his assertion that any decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) must respect the country’s "constitutionally-based judicial order" in the case of Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition politician barred from holding public office for acts of corruption and administrative irregularities.

By Correo del Orinoco
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According to newly named National Attorney General Carlos Escarra, Lopez is barred from holding public office until 2014 "because he stole money and trafficked in influences", a sanction that does not violate Lopez’s fundamental human rights.

"Putting it simply", said Escarra, "this man violated the law".

Venezuela’s previous Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian (2000-2011) banned Lopez from holding public office after uncovering an illegal donation accepted by Lopez in 1998. The donation, worth $160,000, was made out to Lopez’s Primero Justicia Civil Association (ACPJ) by then employer Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The donation, in the form of a check, was signed by Lopez’s mother, who also worked for PDVSA at that time.

Anti-corruption laws in Venezuela strictly prohibit any donation by the publicly-owned oil company to employees or functionaries, direct family members of employees, or foundations or entities related totally or partially to any of the said parties.

Escarra explained that while Lopez cannot hold public office for another two years, he maintains his constitutional right to vote, to engage in the political life of the country, and to participate in political debates individually and/or within political parties.

Lopez, founder of the opposition Voluntad Popular (1999) political party, has made public his intent to run in next year’s presidential elections if the Inter-American Court opines in his favor.

SOVEREIGNTY

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Escarra explained that Venezuela’s fight against corruption "would be left unarmed" if the Venezuelan government allowed an IACHR de cision to override the nation’s judicial authorities.

According to Escarra, theLopez case has gone through the appropriate legal channels, including the country’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), and the nation’s Comptroller General needs "the option" of "administrative sanctions" so as to prevent corruption by public officials and to punish those engaged in such illicit activities.

Regardless of the IACHR’s opinion in the Lopez case, said Escarra, "the problems of the Judicial Branch, the internal and structural problems, will be decided in Venezuela and not outside of the country".

German Saltron, Venezuela’s representative at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), explained that Lopez’s sanction "does not violate Article 23 of the IACHR because he (Lopez) can still exercise his political rights".

"What he can’t do is nominate himself to a position elected by the popular vote because he has a sanction for acts of corruption", said Saltron.

"To decide in favor of Leopoldo Lopez is to encourage corruption", he concluded.

The IACHR finished deliberations in the case on September 2nd and is expected to issue its official opinion in the coming days.

Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights stipulates that all citizens of signatory countries have the right to political participation, to vote and be elected, and to access public services. Signatory states, however, "may regulate the exercise of these rights and opportunities" on a number of bases, including the "sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings".

Lopez’s lawyers, backed by outspoken opposition politicians, claim that Venezuela’s Comptroller General is not a "competent court", ignoring the fact that Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) ratified the Comptroller’s decision in the Lopez case.

Though opposition figures have accused the Comptroller General of political bias and persecution, Venezuelan private newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported that a majority of those affected by the 2008 decision were not members of the Vene zuelan opposition or its political parties.

BIAS

According to Roy Chaderton, Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR is a "contaminated" institution.

Chaderton explained that for many years the Inter-American court "forgot about" the human rights violations associated with the 1989 "Caracazo", a popular uprising against neo-liberal policies in which Venezuela’s armed forces killed hundreds if not thousands protestors.

Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS also pointed out that the IACHR also "immediately recognized the coup regime that removed Chavez from power" in 2002 and often "speak of Mr.Chavez and not of President Chavez" when referring to the Venezuelan president.

"Given the grave errors they have committed", argued Chaderton, "they are not dependable".

"They don’t listen, they don’t speak, they don’t hear, but if they receive a call from Globovision they release a communiqué right away", he said.

Globovision is one of the most hostile anti-Chavez media outlets in Venezuela, with daily coverage dedicated to criticizing Chavez and his government. In recent months they have granted lengthy open-ended interviews to opposition candidates running in next year’s presidential elections, including Leopoldo Lopez.

LOPEZ A “DIVISIVE FIGURE”

According to documents released by the whistleblower website Wikileaks, staff at the US embassy in Caracas consider Lopez "a divisive figure of the opposition" because he is openly "arrogant, vengeful, and thirsty for power".

The US embassy in Caracas noted that while his personal characteristics make him a barrier to "unity" within the Venezuelan opposition, the "social networks" of anti-Chavez voters Lopez has successfully organized with his political party, Voluntad Popular, "convert him into both a necessity and a threat to the opposition".

Voluntad Popular’s so-called"social networks" are an attempt at community organizing in which active members of the anti-Chavez minority "promote social and political participation" to "solve problems in the community". In reality, these networks seek to establish parallel community-based organizations that can slow efforts of the Revolution’s Communal Councils and take votes away from the Chavez camp.

Zulia state Governor Pablo Perez, one of the opposition’s presidential hopefuls, recently proposed Lopez as his possible vice presidential candidate, seeking to use Lopez’s base of support to garner votes while blocking Lopez from a presidential bid.

In April 2002, Lopez was one of many opposition figures to sign what is commonly referred to in Venezuela as the “Carmona Decree” which dissolved all of the country’s democratic institutions – including the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and Public Defender – during the short-lived military coup that briefly ousted democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez.