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21/10/2011 | Venezuela - Chavez's Dirtiest Trick Yet

Editorial

Elections: If there's any better proof that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez can't win an election fairly, it's in his Supreme Court's sorry bid to disqualify a promising opponent this week.

 

Why anyone would want to run for president in a democracy as corrupt as Venezuela's is an open question. After all, President Hugo Chavez's Marxist government has used state funds to buy votes, engaged in ballot-box fraud (as gullible observers like Jimmy Carter grinned and nodded), and used surveillance and retaliation against those who voted "incorrectly" in supposedly secret elections.

But it speaks well for those who do, keeping the faith for democracy against the odds.

Maybe that's why the government of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela has come up with its lowest blow yet: disqualifying a popular candidate to knock him out without a vote.

The candidate, Leopoldo Lopez, is a former mayor of the Caracas district of Chacao who kept the streets clean, enforced the law, and kept taxes low even as the rest of the city morphed into a red-shirted, graffiti-strewn Chavista cesspool of garbage, crime and corruption.

Of course he's popular.

But this week, the Venezuelan Supreme Court defied a September Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that held Lopez should not be banned from running for president due to politically motivated charges of corruption in 2005 that never went to court. Venezuela's constitution requires abiding by any IACHR ruling, so it should have been an open-and-shut case,

But the Chavista Supreme Court ignored it. Making an incoherent ruling intended to help Chavez, who is also running for office, they are now backtracking with the odd declaration that Lopez can run but they are not sure if he can be seated if he wins.

It's a desperate act of a court desperate to break up the opposition before it starts winning elections, which it has a very real chance of doing if it can agree on a single candidate in February.

Polls show that Lopez has about 27% support, while a rival, Gov. Henrique Capriles Radonski, takes 40% and another candidate, Pablo Perez, grabs 29%.

The youthful-looking Lopez has been officially harassed for years by Chavista officials. Until recently, he hadn't even been considered by voters to be a candidate.

But now, with the largest and best-organized campaign machine, Lopez seems likely to rise in the polls.

Why does this matter? Because Venezuela continues to decline. It has become a narco-state that will soon become impossible for the U.S. to ignore. Venezuela is the top shipper of cocaine and other drugs, and has been penetrated by the Colombian and Russian mafias, as well as by Hezbollah and Cuba.

More to the point, Hugo Chavez is gravely ill with cancer and could have only months to live. He might not even make it to the next election. It may well be very important that a credible opposition candidate be in place to avoid the chaos should Chavez die. Venezuela's dictator-in-democracy's-clothing officially remains in denial about his illness and refuses to name a successor.

Lopez has defiantly said he intends to run for president anyway — no matter what the Chavista court says.

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.

More important, the U.S., which still imports oil from Venezuela, has got to throw the weight of its leadership behind democracy too.

If not, chaos might soon be the norm — especially if the U.S. stays on the passive, Jimmy Carter-style diplomatic course it's been floating on since Obama's presidency.

Investors.com (Estados Unidos)

 


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