Venezuela court puts in doubt presidential bid

By IAN JAMES | October 20, 2011 | 1:56 PM EDT

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's Supreme Court threw into doubt the presidential campaign of a prominent opposition leader on Monday by upholding a bar on him holding office.

The Supreme Court ruled as "impracticable" a decision issued last month by the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights that demanded Venezuelan electoral officials allow Leopoldo Lopez to run for office.

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

The former Caracas district mayor was barred from holding office by Venezuela's top anti-corruption official starting in 2008. The temporary prohibition resulted from allegations that a nonprofit group Lopez led had received donations from 1998 to 2001 from the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, where his mother worked.

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 challenged the measures against him in the regional human rights court arguing that his political rights were violated. The Inter-American court ruled in his favor on Sept. 1.

But Venezuela's Supreme Court, in its ruling released Monday, said the measure barring Lopez from holding public office "does not impede him from exercising his political rights."

The Supreme Court said the "administrative disqualification ... is directed only at temporarily impeding the exercise of public duties ... and does not impede him from participating in any political event carried out within his party or called by" the opposition coalition.

Lopez has announced plans to run in a February primary vote that will pick a unity candidate to challenge President Hugo Chavez in the October 2012 election. When he launched his campaign last month, he challenged Chavez to accept him in the race.

Lopez's campaign said in a statement that he'll publicly respond to the Supreme Court decision Tuesday. It also said the decision "damages international agreements signed and ratified" by Venezuela. Human rights activists had joined Lopez in saying Venezuela was bound to respect the ruling by the rights court.

Pro-Chavez lawmaker Cilia Flores denied that the Supreme Court's decision represents any violation of democratic liberties.

"There's complete democracy here, total freedoms, outright participation," Flores said at a news conference after the ruling was announced.


Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.