Chavez foe vows to run in presidential race despite court ruling

Venzuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez delivers a speech in Caracas on September 24, 2010.

Story highlights

  • "I can and will be a candidate," says opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez
  • Venezuela's top court has said he can't hold office
  • The government accuses Lopez of corruption, though he hasn't been convicted
Opposition candidate Leopoldo Lopez vowed Tuesday to run in Venezuela's presidential election next year, despite a ruling from the country's top court that upheld a ban on his holding office.
The country's Supreme Court ruled Monday that Lopez would not be allowed to hold office, though curiously he is still permitted to compete.
"I can and will be a candidate," said Lopez, criticizing the court for being unclear. "They are mistaken if they think we're going to bow down ... The decision should be in the hands of the people."
By announcing his intent to run, Lopez appears to be betting on the strength of popular support. If he were to win, presumably, the court could feel pressured to reverse its ruling. But that outcome is far from certain.
Critics of President Hugo Chavez say the president packs courts with his supporters and uses them to silence his critics. He denies the allegations.
Chavez's government accused Lopez of corruption during his tenure as the mayor of the municipality of Chacao, and through an administrative procedure barred him in 2008 from holding public office for six years. At issue are two corruption accusations -- one in 1998 when Lopez was an analyst for the state-run PDVSA oil company, and another in 2002 for alleged budgetary modifications while he was mayor.
Lopez was never convicted of a crime and has argued he was unjustly banned. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court, however, did not. It released a statement Monday calling the international rights court's ruling "unfeasible."
Lopez isn't the only one barred from holding office in Venezuela. In the run-up to the pivotal 2008 elections, hundreds of politicians were prevented from running, the vast majority from parties opposed to Chavez.
Lopez, in 2008, was running for mayor of Caracas, the country's capital. He is now considered among the top contenders to challenge Chavez in next year's election.
"The threat to my candidacy is a threat to all 2012 candidates. What's happening to me could happen to anyone," he said Tuesday, according to his website.
Chavez has ruled Venezuela for more than 12 years. Despite his ongoing battle with cancer, the charismatic president has said he plans to seek re-election.