Venezuela’s Chavez laughs off court’s election ruling

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez yesterday dismissed as “worthless” an international court ruling that cleared a key opposition candidate to run against him in 2012.

The charismatic leftist, who is on his way to Cuba for a fourth round of chemotherapy, 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 — heartened by a recent decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that cleared Leopoldo Lopez to run against Chavez — aims to bring that revolution to an end in the October 2012 election.

The Costa Rica-based court is part of the Organiza-tion of American States, and its decisions are supposed to be binding. But Venezuela might ignore the ruling and keep Lopez out of the campaign anyway.

“As far as I’m concerned, this court is worthless,” Chavez said yesterday, adding Venezuela’s own justice system would be the final arbiter of the case. The local courts usually side with the government on such matters.

Despite being treated over the past three months for cancer, Chavez was in classic form yesterday, 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 Vene-zuela’s most popular politician despite rampant crime and one of the highest inflation rates in the world. In June, he underwent surgery in Cuba to remove a tumour in the pelvic area, throwing added uncertainty into Vene-zuela’s upcoming political season.

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 favoured 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 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 next week after about five days of treatment.

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