Venezuela Anxiously Awaits Supreme Court Decision on Disqualified Candidates

Venezuelans on both sides of the country’s political divide await with bated breath an imminent decision of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Comptroller General’s disqualification of candidates for public office, due to accusations of corruption.
Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez surrounded by supporters in front of the Supreme Court, during a protest against his disqualification as candidate, because of corruption charges.  (El Universal)

July 31, 2008 (— Venezuelans on both sides of the country’s political divide await with bated breath an imminent decision of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Comptroller General’s disqualification of candidates for public office, due to accusations of corruption. Meanwhile, some opposition figures have taken their case to international bodies, such as Mercosur and the OAS.

Both opposition candidates and government officials testified before the constitutional chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice Tuesday and today. While government officials plead their case for the court to ratify article 105 of the law of the Comptroller General, opposition leaders argued that the law that regulates the country’s main corruption watchdog is unconstitutional.

On Tuesday top lawyers of the National Assembly, the President’s legal counsel, and the Public Ministry (made up of Comptroller General, Attorney General, and Human Rights Defender) testified at the Supreme Court in favor of the disqualifications.

Among the opposition figures to appear at the court today was the mayor of the wealthy Caracas neighborhood of Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez, who is running for mayor of Greater Caracas in November, and 14 other opposition candidates who have been disqualified from running for office by the Comptroller General.

According to Lopez, whom the Comptroller General has accused of illegally donating oil company money to an NGO run by his mother while he was working at the state oil company, the right to run for office cannot be denied any citizen unless there is a final court decision against them.

“We are asking that the constitution be upheld and that the people conduct the election. In a democracy it is the people that elect,” said Lopez. The Comptroller General’s law is unconstitutional, he argued.

The Comptroller General, Codosbaldo Russian, has, in accordance with the law that governs his office, ruled that 272 public officials cannot run for office because they have been charged with having committed acts of corruption or administrative irregularities.

Russian explained to the Latin American TV channel Telesur today that most of those who have been disqualified are in appointed positions, not elected officials. Their disqualification applies to holding both types of office.

Russian also explained that the law on which the principle of disqualifications is based was originally passed in 1975, during the presidency of Carlos Andrés Perez.

“These disqualified candidates, because they have economic, propagandistic, and media resources are denouncing us in international bodies,” said Russian. Instead, they should have demonstrated their innocence once their disqualification was made known to them, he added.

The Vice-President of the National Electoral Council, Janeth Hernández, said today in an interview on the state television channel VTV that a majority of those disqualified are Chavez-supporters and thus the argument that this is a political measure targeted against the opposition does not hold water.

National Assembly deputy Iris Varela also argued that the opposition leaders who are complaining about the disqualifications are being hypocritical because originally they supported the Comptroller General’s law and the Anti-Corruption law without reservations when these were passed in 2001.

“The first thing that they need to recognize is that when the citizen power law [which governs the Comptroller General] and the corruption law were passed, all of these opposition representatives were present in the National Assembly and were the first to cry for a strong hand in the fight against corruption,” said Varela.

OAS and Mercosur Get Involved

Meanwhile, Oscar Perez, a representative of the opposition group National Resistance Commando, presented documents to Mercosur via Uruguay’s embassy to Venezuela today, to demonstrate that the disqualifications represented a violation of human rights.

According to Perez they “violate or contravene in some way what is established in article 23 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights or the Pact of San José.”

“For this reason we have decided to bring all of the requirements and accusations before the embassies of the member countries of Mercosur,” added Perez.

Adriana Peña, the president of Mercosur’s human rights commission, her commission is working on convening its next meeting in Caracas, to observe first-hand the controversial disqualifications issue.

The commission, though, “has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela. This is none of our business, but it is our business to watch for the fulfillment of the Mercosur articles with regard to associate members. This is our interest and our duty,” said Peña. Venezuela is an associate member of Mercosur and is waiting for the finalization of its full membership.

Similarly, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), which is part of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued an 11-page report on the case of Leopoldo Lopez, who challenged his disqualification with the Supreme Court over two years ago.

According to the IACHR, “Without judging he basic question [of the disqualification], the commission observes that the lack of an opportune resolution of the case may imply that the [case] becomes inoperative or meaningless.” It also notes that according to Venezuela’s Supreme Court law, cases should not take more than eight months to be resolved.