Venezuela's Chavez laughs off court's election ruling

CARACAS Sat Sep 17, 2011 6:39pm EDT

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from the ''Voluntad Popular'' (Popular Will) party greets supporters during a rally in Caracas September 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from the ''Voluntad Popular'' (Popular Will) party greets supporters during a rally in Caracas September 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Silva

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on his way to Cuba for a fourth round of chemotherapy on Saturday, dismissed an international court ruling that cleared a key opposition candidate to run against him in 2012.

The charismatic leftist has led Latin America's top oil exporting country since 1999 and wants to stay in office until at least 2025 to consolidate his self-styled "revolution."

The opposition -- galvanized by a recent decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that cleared rival Leopoldo Lopez to run against Chavez -- aims to bring that revolution to an end in the October, 2012, election.

The court is part of the Organization of American States, or OAS, and its decisions are supposed to be binding. But Venezuela may keep Lopez out of the campaign just the same.

Despite being treated over the last three months for cancer, Chavez was in classic form on Saturday, breaking into song during marathon public appearances. In televised comments, he laughed the court decision off with a play on words.

"One of my haircuts is worth more than this court," he said to laughter from an audience of supporters. In Spanish, the word "corte" means "court" as well as "cut", as in haircut.

The 57-year-old leader has shaved his head since entering chemotherapy and often jokes about his new look. His government issued a statement on Friday dismissing the Lopez ruling as a politically motivated violation of Venezuelan sovereignty.

Chavez remains Venezuela's most popular politicians despite rampant crime and one of the highest inflation rates in the world. In June he underwent surgery in Cuba to remove a tumor in the pelvic area, throwing added uncertainty into Venezuela's upcoming political season.

TOUGH CAMPAIGN AHEAD

Centrist candidate Lopez was banned from politics by Venezuelan authorities who accuse him of corruption.

The 40-year-old centrist made his name as mayor of the wealthy Chacao district in Caracas. He was favored to go on to win the race for mayor of the whole city in 2008, but he was blocked by Chavez's comptroller general.

Accused but not tried for corruption, Lopez was barred from seeking public office until 2014. He says the accusations are trumped up and called it unconstitutional to suspend him from politics without first giving him a trial. The court agreed.

Chavez says he will soon be done with chemotherapy and promises to be fit for a rigorous campaign next year.

"I will go to Cuba this afternoon," he said. "Early tomorrow I will start the fourth round of chemotherapy, which will most likely be the last."

The president, who had the constitution changed to allow perpetual re-elections, said he expected to return to Venezuela by the middle of the week after about five days of treatment.

The opposition meanwhile aims to elect a unity candidate in February's primary, which Lopez vows to win.

Polls show him toward the top of an opposition field led by Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who promises to emulate Brazil's "modern-left" policy model if elected.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago)

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Comments (1)
brian-decree wrote:
The OAS is a highly political organization, with heavy US influence which on this occasion is being used as a propaganda tool against Oil rich Venezuela.

Article 9 in it’s constitution clearly states that it can not be used as a tool by a member country to interfere in the politics of another member country such as Venezuela.

You can bet the US is behind this… and if you want to know how much respect THEY have for the international court ask how they responded when the same court charged the US government with international terrorism, also later ratified by the UN.

Still the only country to be formally charged with terrorism – the USA!

Sorry guys but you don’t get to use these organizations to your advantage when you want to, and then blow them off when they charge YOU.

Sep 17, 2011 12:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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