Archive for June 24th, 2008

Another black list under Hugo Chavez: Disqualifying opponents from running for office

June 24, 2008

I have not written much about the “inhabilitaciones”, the
new black list by the Hugo Chavez administration, which my dictionary translates as
disqualifications, but does not seem quite right. In any case, I was waiting
for the time to register candidacies to be closer to talk about the issue in the still
naďve belief that the whole thing was so absurd, that it would surely go away.

But it hasn’t…it represents another black list and abuse of
power by this Government which is only efficient at violating people’s rights.

Absurd, because the procedure used to disqualify a person is
so ridiculous and simple and so dependent on a single person, the Comptroller,
that if the legislators had meant to it to be that way, they would have
realized what a mess it would be.

Just so that you understand the process, let me describe how easy it is to be disqualified. The procedure can be as simple as this:

-Someone from the Comptroller’s office or a citizen detects
or accuses someone of doing something improper.

-The Comptroller has the lawyers that work for him interview
the accused (without a lawyer being present), you are asked at the end to sign to certify that you said what is in the minutes typed by the lawyer interviewing you. 

-The case is reviewed and at that point new questions may
arise which require a new meeting with the lawyer, at which point they will ask
additional questions and/or clarifications about the case. The lawyers will
then say what sections of the administrative code were violated and the case
goes to the Comptroller for a final decision.

-The Comptroller, alone and singlehandedly, decides whether
you have committed a fault and decides what to do. It can be as simple as a
fine or disqualifying you from being appointed to office for a certain period.
Up to a few years ago, it was never interpreted as you not being eligible to be
a candidate.

That’s how easy the process to “disqualify” you is in this
new revolutionary interpretation.

How do I know this? Easy. A few years ago, I was on the
Board of a Foundation associated with one of the universities in Caracas. We
signed a letter of intention to buy an office for Bs. 250 million (at the time
around US$ 300,000) and asked for a mortgage from a bank. On the day we had to
pass papers, the mortgage had not come thru, so the seller pulled out unless we
paid more, I don’t recall how much more but it was something like Bs. 20 or 30
million. The case came to the Board and we approved it because we could not
find anything cheaper and the location was perfect for the Foundation.

A couple of years later, someone went to the Comptroller’s
office and denounced that there had been a payoff of some sort and that was why
a higher amount was paid. The Comptroller opened the case and all eight members
of the Board were investigated and we all went to the Comptroller’s office
twice to testify or be interviewed. The lawyers conclusion was that we were not
guilty of what we were accused but we were in violation of the law for
attempting to borrow money without the Cabinet approving it (Despite the Foundation
not having received any Government funding since 1970). Thus, we were charged
with this different accusation and the penalty was a fine of what was then
about $700-800 and two years of disqualification from being named to any
Government position.

The case went to the Comptroller (Russian, the current one)
who decided we were not guilty. We never knew why he ruled that way; we were
just sent letters of good behavior, saying the case had been closed.

This is the first reason the whole thing is absurd, you cannot
have such a process dependent on one person and subject to manipulation. Yes,
you can appeal, but in the appeal, you just write why you are innocent and the
Comptroller once again decides what to answer back.

The fact that this is the case can be seen in the statistics
which show that 80% of those disqualified from running for office are
opposition in a country where the opposition holds less than 30% of the offices
in the country between Mayors and Governors. That extreme asymmetry is no
accident.

In fact, the Comptroller is not a judge, he can disqualify
someone from being appointed to office, but he can not stop them from being elected. The only way to take
away your political right to be elected is if a Judge finds you guilty. This is
not even just Venezuelan legislation, this is part of the Interamerican
Convention on Human Rights
(The San Jose pact) which in its Article 23
clearly says that your political rights can be limited by a number of reasons
such as age, nationality and…”sentence, by the competent judge, in a penal
process”.  Article 65 of the
Venezuelan Constitution establishes a similar limitation, which I still find it
hard to interpret in any other way, and takes precedence over any legislation
below it. But in any case, Venezuela signed the San Jose pact, which will
clearly delimit how anyone’s political rights can be taken away: Only by
sentence of a judge in a penal process.

Thus, we are once again facing a gross miscarriage of
justice by the Chavez administration, which has simply disqualified those
figures of the opposition that were a threat, while at the same time using
similar arguments to remove pro-Chavez figures from office in the case of those
Chavistas who were a nuisance to Chavez’ plans and desires, such as the
recently removed Governor of Yaracuy State.

If the rule of law existed in Venezuela, this would be
easily and readily fixed with a ruling from the Constitutional Hall of the
Venezuelan Supreme Court, but despite numerous injunctions submitted to that
body, the Court has either ruled against them or denied the injunctions on
technicalities.

All of this has been helped by the absolute obedience of the
Electoral Board, who despite the fact that none of them are lawyers, reached a
decision on the matter without even asking for an opinion from its legal
counsel.

I have no hope that this new black list by the Chavez
Government will be revoked. It is a Government for which the wholesale
violation of human rights represents no problem if they are in the way of the
empty political project of the Chavez revolution.

From the PDVSA workers, to the Maisanta list and now the
black list of the “inhabilitados”, it is a way of life for Chavez and his
comrades to perversely violate the rights of those that get in their way.

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