Merida, March 4th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Yesterday, Venezuela’s Public Defender Gabriela Ramírez affirmed that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has an “extraordinary opportunity” to set legal precedence in cases of corruption as it relates to Leopoldo López, the Venezuelan opposition figure banned from holding public office back in 2008.
On Wednesday, after two days of legal proceedings that addressed López’s claims his “rights had been violated”, the Costa Rica-based IACHR asked both López’s defense team and the Venezuelan government to submit their written allegations by 2 April 2011.
In 2008, López and 271 other Venezuelans were banned from running for public office as a result of having been charged with committing acts of corruption or administrative irregularities. López has accused the Venezuelan government of violating his rights, “under the Inter-American Charter,” asked the IACHR to intervene on his behalf, and has said publicly that getting the ban lifted will allow him to run as the opposition’s candidate in presidential elections scheduled for December, 2012.
On Thursday, Public Defender Ramírez reminded the press that López’s case is “not a penal case” and that while he is legally prohibited from holding public office until 2014, he and the others maintain their right to vote, participate politically, and organize themselves in political parties and movements.
“His conduct in public office detracted from democracy and for this reason his disqualification is in accordance with [the law],” she said.
Ramírez said that she hoped the IACHR would appreciate the importance of Venezuela’s “efforts to eradicate administrative corruption” and use strictly legal judicial criteria to “set legal precedence in Latin America” against corrupt politicians.
Leopoldo López was banned from holding public office by Venezuela’s Comptroller General Codosbaldo Russian – known for being one of the country’s staunchest anti-corruption watchdogs. Russian’s ruling, ratified by the Venezuelan Supreme Court in late 2008, is based on a 1975 anti-corruption law passed during the presidency of Carlos Andrés Perez.
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 Venezuelan opposition or its political parties.
Russian included López in the anti-corruption sweep after investigating a donation López received in 1998 from his employers at Venezuela’s publicly-owned oil company PDVSA. The donation, equivalent to US$106,000, was made out in the form of a check to López’s Primero Justicia Civil Association (ACPJ) and signed by López’s mother. At that time, both López and his mother worked for PDVSA.
Under a cooperation agreement between PDVSA and the Inter-American Foundation, any donation by the state 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 is strictly prohibited.
While López admitted to receiving the check and was later sanctioned, he has never said whether he thought that represented a conflict of interest.
At the time of the ban, López was mayor of the wealthy Caracas neighborhood of Chacao and mayoral candidate for the Greater Caracas in November 2008 state and municipal elections.
Born in 1971, López received his Masters in Pubic Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996. He has been an active member of opposition political parties Primero Justicia, Un Nuevo Tiempo, and Voluntad Popular (First Justice, A New Time, and Popular Will).
After launching Voluntad Popular in 2009, the Associated Press described López as, “a youthful-looking 38” who was touring Venezuela, “wooing students, trade unionists and others with promising leadership skills. He hopes to mold them into a political movement for Venezuelans who are disenchanted with Chávez’s decade-long rule, as well as with the elite who governed the country before him.”
In a 2010 interview published in the Latin American Advisor, a daily publication produced by the conservative Inter-American Dialogue, López accused Chávez of conducting a “psychological campaign” against the Venezuelan opposition.
In the interview, López also called on the opposition to develop a clear political position in order to win the 2012 presidential election. The opposition needs “to present a clear alternative for the future,” said López.
“[The vision] needs to be a commitment to a new Venezuela, rather than a rejection of what is happening now,” he said.
In late November, 2007, López appeared in a handheld video recording standing next to now-detained opposition figure Alejandro Peña Esclusa during a meeting in which Esclusa described destabilization plans in the run-up to a constitutional referendum held 2 December 2007.
“It is not true that I said to not recognize the electoral results, or to create protests in that meeting,” said López in response to accusations made by then Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon.
“On the contrary, I had a different position than Peña Esclusa, who didn’t want people to go vote. I have always been working in favor of voting,” said López at the time.
Esclusa has been held by Venezuelan authorities since July of last year, a week after known Salvadorian terrorist Francisco Chávez Abarca was captured attempting to enter Venezuela with plans to destabilize the country’s parliamentary elections of September, 2010.
900 grams of military grade C-4 explosives were found in Esclusa’s home, along with electronic and thermal detonating devices and documents detailing plans for destabilizing Venezuela in the coming period, according to Venezuelan Minister for Internal Affairs Tarek El Aissami.
In 2002, López and other opposition figures signed what many in Venezuela call 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 – as part of the short-lived coup d’état that briefly ousted President Hugo Chávez in April 2002.
According to Venezuelan-U.S. lawyer and writer Eva Golinger, all three of the parties in which López has participated are recipients of funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).