Venezuelan Supreme Court Ratifies Candidate Disqualifications as Constitutional
Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2008
By Gregory Wilpert
August 7th 2008
Venezuela's Supreme Court issued a series of decisions yesterday and today that validated the Comptroller General's ruling to temporarily disqualify nearly 300 opposition and pro-Chavez Venezuelans accused of corruption from holding public office. The decisions were eagerly awaited by the opposition, which says that the disqualifications are an effort to eliminate viable candidates from running in the November 23rd regional elections.
The most important decision, which was made by the court's constitutional chamber yesterday, declared the constitutionality of article 105 of the law governing the Comptroller General's office. According to the law's challengers, this article violates both constitutional due process guarantees and the right to run for political office.
The court, in a four to one decision, said that due process is respected in the Comptroller General's law because defendants are guaranteed full due process rights in the three-phase administrative process when accused of corruption or administrative irregularities that can lead to disqualification from holding public office.
Another argument brought against the disqualifications was that these are unconstitutional because article 42 of the constitution only allows the loss of citizenship and political rights in the case of final court decisions. The Supreme Court, though, countered that article 42 only refers to political rights lost in the context of loss of citizenship and not when they are lost in other circumstances.
Other decisions were made by the political-administrative chamber of the Supreme Court, which unanimously affirmed the disqualifications of the mayor of the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez, who wants to run for mayor of Greater Caracas, and David Uzcategui, the opposition nominee for the other wealthy Caracas district of Baruta. Both the plaintiffs and the court used similar lines of argument as in the cases before the constitutional chamber.
Lopez reacted to the court's decision by saying that it was made out of "fear" of the majority and that it was "in favor of a government that can manipulate the public powers in order to impose its will because it has lost popular support."
Lopez is accused, among other things, of having engineered a 60 million bolivars ($106,000) donation to his newly formed political party, Primero Justicia, from the state oil company in 1998 when both he and his mother were working there. The check was signed by his mother.
The oppositional student leader Yon Goicochea also reacted to the decision, saying that the Chavez government is closing the avenues for peaceful change in Venezuelan.
"The people want to find solutions via justice. What does the government want? It wants to set fire to this city [Caracas]. They are looking for violence. If they do not let us express ourselves peacefully at the voting booths, ... they are looking for us to set fire to the city," said Goicochea.
"The people must understand that the fight is today or there will be none. The fight is for democracy and liberty," he added.
Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian responded to the ruling by saying that Tuesday's court decision was the third such decision in the past four years pertaining to disqualifications for those found guilty of having committed acts of corruption. "Now this sentence is putting a final point on what has been contradicted by sectors of the opposition," said Russian on Venezuelan state TV.
Lawyers for the opposition, said Russian, "must admit that things have changed in Venezuela and that crimes against the public good are punished... A serious and sustained effort is being made in Venezuela by the institutions of the state to clean up the country and put an end to corruption and impunity."
Another government supporter who expressed their satisfaction with the court's decision was Celia Flores, the president of the National Assembly. According to her, "This Supreme Court decision contributes to the doing of justice, and those who commit crimes, irregularities, or mistakes can be punished," said Flores.
While the court issued its rulings, though, two parliamentarians who belong to the Human Rights Commission of the Mercosur Parliament arrived in Venezuela today to examine the human rights implications of the disqualifications. Adriana Peņa of Uruguay and Mirtha Palacios of Paraguay responded to the denunciation of Mayor Lopez that his disqualification represents a violation of his right to run for political office.
Peņa and Palacios are scheduled to meet with representatives from opposition parties, the government, and Comptroller General Russian.
The president of the Mercosur parliament, Florisvaldo Fier, of Brazil's Workers' Party, denied that Peņa and Palacios are in Venezuela on official business. "Peņa does not represent the Mercosur parliament and neither the Human Rights Commission because for that ... an authorization is needed that she does not possess," said Fier according to the newspaper El Universal.
Reacting angrily to the visit, Venezuela's foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said that Peņa is in Venezuela "to interfere" in the internal affairs of Venezuela and to met with her friends who are "accused of corruption."
Russian reacted more positively to Peņa's visit, saying that he welcomes it. When he meets with her, he would "congratulate her for her interest in the defense of human rights. I don't have any problems in talking about human rights, not with the deputy nor with anyone else," said Russian.