Chavez foe: Venezuela must accept court ruling

AP News
Posted: Sep 20, 2011 10:54 PM
Chavez foe: Venezuela must accept court ruling

A prominent opponent of President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that Venezuela's highest court will violate constitutional rights if it upholds a ban on him running in next year's presidential election.

Leopoldo Lopez said the Supreme Court is obligated to comply with a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that orders Venezuelan authorities to lift restrictions on Lopez that were imposed by the South American country's top anti-corruption official.

"It would be violating the constitution," Lopez said, referring to a pending ruling on the restriction to be handed down by justices of the Supreme Court.

Earlier Tuesday, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said the Costa Rica-based right court issued its decision in a "hurried way" in the case of Lopez.

Ortega said the rights court has yet to take a stance on various complaints of rights violations dating to the 1990s or earlier, but has acted particularly swiftly in Lopez's case.

"One sees how there is different treatment of different cases that have been presented here in Venezuela," Ortega said at a news conference.

She said Venezuela's Foreign Ministry should review the rights court's record to determine if it is complying with a regional human rights convention that governs its activities.

Chavez criticized the rights court after the ruling was released last week, calling the court part of an international system that "protects the corrupt and obeys the mandate of the (U.S.) imperial power and the bourgeoisie."

Lopez has insisted Venezuela has an obligation to comply with the court's ruling. He intends to run in an opposition primary in February that will pick a unity candidate to challenge Chavez. The presidential election will be in October 2012.

Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, was barred from running for office in 2005 by Venezuela's comptroller general. Lopez was accused of receiving donations on behalf of an organization he led between 1998 and 2001 from the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, where his mother worked at the time.

The comptroller general also sanctioned Lopez in 2004 for alleged irregularities in the movement of funds from one portion of his local budget to another.

Lopez was among several politicians blacklisted due to corruption investigations, but he insists he is innocent and notes he never was sentenced in a court.

He challenged his disqualification before the human rights court, arguing his rights were violated.

The chief of Venezuela's elections council and other officials have said they are awaiting a response to the decision by the country's Supreme Court.

Human rights groups are supporting Lopez's argument that the ruling is legally binding for Venezuela.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that "the court's role is especially vital for a country like Venezuela where, under Chavez's rule, the judiciary has ceased to function as a check on government abuse."

The Human Rights Foundation also welcomed the decision by the rights court, calling it a "landmark case" that will have impact throughout Latin America. The New York-based organization noted Venezuela has previously recognized the rights court's jurisdiction.

Venezuela is a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights, which the regional court cited in its ruling.