Mon, Sep 26, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Lopez registers for presidential bid in Venezuela

AFP, CARACAS

Opposition candidate Leopoldo Lopez made it official on Saturday, registering to run next year against longtime Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking a third term.

“Today, I am letting you know ... that I am committed to defeating him at the ballot box on October 7, 2012,” the 40-year-old economist told followers in Caracas.

Lopez, whose right to run was upheld last week by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, is with the center-right Will of the People party.

He said he would take part in the primaries in February next year for the Democratic Union opposition alliance, which is looking to field a unity candidate to mount the strongest possible challenge against Chavez.

“This idea that some have abroad that the government is invincible is not true,” Lopez said last week in an interview with AFP and the Venezuelan Web site Noticias 24.

“We can defeat it, despite all of the difficulties ... and despite all the power and the concentration of public resources that he has,” Lopez said.

A charismatic politician, Lopez comes armed with a master’s degree from Harvard and experience as mayor of the upscale Caracas municipality of Chacao.

Lopez said last week the recipe for victory is an alliance among all the opposition presidential hopefuls.

“There is an agreement that whoever wins in the primaries, we’ll all work on the same team — and that is etched in stone,” he said.

Other next-generation leaders include Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles, 38, who shares Lopez’s telenovela-star looks; Pablo Perez, 42, governor of the oil state of Zulia and opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, 44.

However, Chavez remains a formidable opponent. The 57-year-old maintains a 50 percent approval rating, even though he has been physically weakened after Cuban doctors removed a cancerous tumor from his pelvic area — according to the government — on June 20 in Havana.

The omnipresent Chavez has been forced to decrease his public appearances as he undergoes chemotherapy treatment, but insists that next year he will be healthy enough to defeat the opposition “by a knock-out.”

A staunch and vocal critic of the US, he has used his country’s petrodollars in large part to become the region’s leading sponsor of leftist cooperation agreements, subsidizing oil distribution and helping prop up the Cuban regime, the Americas’ only one-party communist government.

Lopez was banned from politics in 2005, when the office of the Comptroller General accused him of corruption.

The case was never brought to trial, and on Sept. 16 the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the Venezuelan ruling invalid. Rulings that result in political punishment are legal only if decided by a criminal court, it said.

An angry Chavez said the “politically motivated” rights court ruling sought to “stimulate” corruption and said the case was now in the hands of the Venezuelan Supreme Court.

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