CARACAS (Reuters) – A Venezuelan opposition leader was cleared by an international court on Friday to run against President Hugo Chavez in 2012, a ruling sure to heat up the race to lead Latin America’s top oil exporting country.
Centrist candidate Leopoldo Lopez had been banned from campaigning by Venezuelan authorities who accuse him of corruption, but the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor.
The court is part of the Organization of American States, or OAS, and its decisions are supposed to be binding. But Venezuela’s government said the Lopez ruling was politically motivated and it may still keep the Harvard-educated politician out of the presidential campaign.
Lopez, 40, 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 and scores of other politicians — most from the opposition — were 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.
A former paratrooper, socialist Chavez was jailed for leading a military coup in 1992. He bounced back to win the 1998 presidential election and has dominated politics in the OPEC-member country ever since.
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