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Local Venezuelan Elections with Leopoldo López

By Aaron Ordower
June 23, 2008

Michael Shifter and Leopoldo LópezLeopoldo López is one of nearly 400 politicians, the vast majority from the opposition, barred from running for office in the November local and regional elections.  The mayor of Cachao municipality and Chávez critic, López is popular and favored to become the next mayor of Caracas if allowed to run, pending a final decision by the Supreme Court.  During the talk at the Inter-American Dialogue on June 23, 2008, López described the electoral disqualification situation and gave a preview of the opposition’s plan for the upcoming elections.

The government argues that López and others, including some pro-Chávez candidates, are forbidden from running because of ongoing corruption probes. The Chacao mayor responded by saying the charges are over a decade old, he has already been cleared of any wrongdoing, and only a conviction can bar a candidate. López accused the Comptroller General of creating a “political apartheid mechanism,” unconstitutionally denying citizens their political rights. “I have not been judged, I have not been tried, I have not been convicted and therefore I am qualified to run for office by the Venezuelan constitution.  It’s crystal clear.”

López said the rejection of the government’s constitutional reforms in December 2007 proved Chávez’s supporters were dissatisfied and ended the debate over whether the opposition should boycott elections, as they did in 2004. With Chávez’s diminishing support, the Venezuelan opposition can win a number of municipal and regional races by presenting a unified platform and agreeing upon a single candidate per post, which he said would likely be decided by July 15th.  He believes an opposition platform should be based on three pillars: good governance and transparency, public safety and crime prevention, as well as a more equitable distribution of windfall oil profits. 
Additional ResourcesListen to an mp3 audio recording of this event.

The Rival Chávez Won't Permit, Washington Post, June 30, 2008.

Opositor de Chávez: Obama sería mejor para Venezuela, AP, June 24, 2008.

Alcalde López fue privado de su libertad en Maiquetía durante más de dos horas, Unión Radio (Venezuela), June 24, 2008.

López: Inhabilitaciones son una jugada para sacar a oposición de contienda electoral, El Universal (Venezuela), June 24, 2008.

Venezuela upholds ban on candidates, AP, June 19, 2008.

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López repeatedly referred to the Venezuelan opposition as the “alternative,” a term he prefers. “I don’t like to define what we do as opposition because when you define yourself as opposition you only define yourself as the opposite of what somebody else is doing, and that limits what we really are about,” López added.  “We are about an alternative.  We are about the future.  We are about hope.  We are about doing things differently.”

Touching on US-Venezuelan relations, López sees a promising future, but believes a new focus should be placed on cultural and educational exchanges to build bridges between the two countries.  In the question and answer period, López said he personally opposed the United States categorizing Venezuela as a “state sponsor of terrorism” because it would only serve to portray the Chávez government as the victim and thus strengthen its position.