The Chávez government continues to fight to prevent one of his toughest opponents from challenging him in next year’s election. On Monday, the Chávez-appointed Venezuelan Supreme Court stated that it “cannot enforce” a recent Inter-American Court decision requiring Venezuela to allow Leopoldo López to seek the presidency. In a highly confusing (some might say cynical) statement, the Supreme Court’s said Leopoldo can be a candidate, but if elected cannot hold office (maybe).
Much speculation has ensued as to what this statement actually means. Here are some things to remember:
1. Venezuela is constitutionally bound to comply with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and reinstate López’s political rights, according to the vast majority of legal and human rights experts.
In September, members of the National Constituent Assembly, the drafters of the Venezuelan constitution, released a document where they reiterated their view that the Constitution mandates that human right treaties and the obligations imposed by them are binding upon Venezuelan governments, as provided for in Articles 23 and 31 of the Constitution. “The Constitution must be respected”, says Vladimir Villegas, a former member of the National Constituent Assembly.
In a statement on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch called the Supreme Court’s decision a major blow to the rule of law in Venezuela and one more indication that Chávez and his allies have “neutralized the independence of Venezuela’s judiciary”. “The Venezuelan Supreme Court today basically belongs to President Chávez,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
2. Leopoldo López is considered to be a uniquely potent challenger to Chávez.
Once the Inter-American Court released its decision several weeks ago ordering Venezuela to reinstate López’s political elibility, a poll by the Venezuelan polling firm Hinterlaces showed him leading the opposition field for next February’s primary, López (33%), Capriles (30%), Perez (20%), Corina Machado (11%). Click here for an infographic detailing the poll.
3. The opposition stands firmly behind López’s right to run.
They recognize that this case is much larger than Leopoldo’s candidacy: it is about protecting the political rights of every citizen in Venezuela and other countries around the world. Top opposition candidates Henrique Capriles and Pablo Perez each released statements in support of Leopoldo, and another candidate, Maria Corina Machado by López’s side at his press conference on Tuesday in a show of unity.
As reported in El Universal: the opposition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), the umbrella group or the opposition candidates, issued a press release upon learning about a ruling from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) on the case of the leader of opposition Voluntad Popular party Leopoldo López:
“The decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) reasserts what had been announced, in a choir of red voices, by the President of the Republic, ministers, the comptroller general, the ombudswoman, the solicitor general, deputies of the (pro-government United Socialist Party of Venezuela) PSUV and even the very president of the TSJ in another shameful token of political dependence of public branches, contrary to the provisions set forth in the Constitution. The Unified Democratic Panel, through the Executive Secretary Office, will report to the Secretary General of the OAS (Organization of American States), governments and member countries such a flagrant contempt. It will also make it known to international organizations and persons of the world, as it entirely draws the anti-democratic, anti-juridical stance of our governors.”
4. López has stated he will continue his candidacy.
Yesterday, at a televised press conference in front of a crowd of hundreds of supporters, López delivered this message: “I can and will be a candidate for the president of Venezuela…The decision (to elect a president) is not for the IACHR or the Supreme Court, that’s only for the Venezuelan people to determine…They’re wrong if they think we are just going to kneel down.” He reiterated that his fight for the presidency is not only about him, but about all Venezuelans who struggle to maintain their personal freedoms against the repressive Chavista government.
A prominent Venezuelan political analsis blog, Caracas Chronicles outlined the reasons that if López wins the popular vote in an election, it will be all but impossible for the Venezuelan government not to allow him to hold office: “More and more, it looks like the government’s gambit in disqualifying-but-not-quite-disqualifying Leopoldo López isn’t going to pan out… the legal tectonics here are beyond baffling, but the political reality is clear enough. Leopoldo can run. And the guy will run. The guy’s opponents welcome him running. And if he wins, he will govern.”
5. This is a defining moment for the Organization of American States.
The international community is watching this issue closely. The global community needs a strong, credible and effective OAS in order to defend Democracy and human rights. The Inter-American Court has spoken, and the OAS is charged with ensuring that its decisions are binding to the member countries. It is critical that the international community support the OAS in its efforts to strengthen the rule of law and human rights.
At yesterday’s daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Mark Toner was asked to comment on Venezuela’s refusal to recognize the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He responded: “We view the Venezuelan – or the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision would, therefore, appear to be in conflict with Venezuela’s international commitments. So we would join the court, as well as Human Rights Watch, and other observers, in calling on Venezuela to adhere to its international commitments.”
An editorial in yesterdays Investor’s Business Daily, also called for the OAS to speak out: “The Organization of American States, which bills itself as the defender of the hemisphere’s democracies, has an obligation to speak out against this chicanery – or make a mockery of democracy in Latin America.”
On Tuesday the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, called for the presidents of the members of the Organization of American States to convene an “emergency” meeting at the OAS to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Leopoldo López to ignore the ruling of the IACHR, the western hempisphere’s highest court of human rights. Listen to Toledo’s statement in Spanish here.
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More information (in Spanish) at http://leopoldoLópez.com