By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The National Electoral Council (CNE) turned down a petition by Opposition Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma for a referendum on the Capital District Law which the government has used to strip him of much of his powers.
The CNE said in a statement that that such a referendum would be on the basis of abrogating a law that was already on the statute book. This, it said, would contravene Article 74 of the Constitution.
Ledezma’s petition had also raised the issue of property and assets that once belonged to the Metropolitan authorities being transferred to the new “head of government” in the capital, Jacqueline Faría.
The CNE pointed out that any such petition for a vote would have to be backed by signatures from 10% of the electorate, stating that Ledezma’s request had not met this requirement.
The CNE’s decision caused little surprise, as four of the five directors its board are perceived to be sympathetic to President Hugo Chávez. There was no immediate comment from the lone dissident on the board, Director Vicente Díaz, who’s regarded as the CNE’s stickler for the electoral rules.
Surprisingly, neither was there a quick come-back from Ledezma himself, even though he’s shown determination to resist a veritable government assault on his powers more or less since the day he took office after beating Chavez favorite Aristóbulo Istúriz at the elections last November.
Ledezma first found himself barred from entering the mayoral offices by rowdy protesters who smashed windows and damaged other property inside the building. They claimed they were municipal employees and loudly proclaimed they wouldn’t work for a “scumbag” like him.
Then the National Guard stopped him using the building which houses the old Supreme Court in downtown Caracas for meetings of the Metropolitan Council. The same building had been put to that very same purpose without hindrance under his predecessor as Metropolitan mayor, Juan Barreto, a one-time big cheese in the PSUV who appears very much to have fallen from favor.
Barreto is said to have been told last year by senior PSUV figures not even to consider running for a second term. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who’s widely seen as a Chávez loyalist, has launched an investigation into Barreto’s conduct in office.
However, the killer blow against Ledezma was the Capital District Law, which redefined the political status of the city and imposed Faría over the mayor’s head. Faría was directly appointed by Chávez, and now has three powerful jobs. Apart from being the chief executive of the capital, she is also president of the re-nationalized communications company, Cantv, and also of its Movilnet cellular telephone unit.
The CNE’s ruling came amid continuing concern in Opposition circles that the government was intent on undermining other areas controlled by the president’s opponents, not least of all oil-rich Zulia state in western Venezuela.
The Opposition party, Primero Justicia, claimed that the government was pursuing a “strategy to take over” the state government in Zulia with the president’s backing. The government hadn’t been able to achieve what it wanted through the vote, and they wouldn’t succeed by using force, either, declared Juan Pablo Guanipa of Primero Justicia.
Guanipa insisted that the party was not out to cause trouble. Chávez frequently accuses “factions” or “sectors” of the Opposition – whom he doesn’t actually name as a rule – of plotting to “destabilize” democratic order in Venezuela.
“We don’t want that cases of violence occur, but we’re not going to allow the rights to be taken away and trampled upon without doing absolutely nothing -- we’re going to act,” Guanipa proclaimed.
The elected mayor of the Zulia state capital, Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, is in self-imposed exile in Peru after not presenting himself for the first hearing of a trial on corruption charges brought by the government.
Rosales, who was Zulia state governor for two successive terms before running successfully for mayor last year, denies the charges. He has been granted political asylum by the Peruvian government, to the evident chagrin of the Chávez regime.
Rosales, as the figurehead of his own party, Un Nuevo Tiempo, unsuccessfully challenged Chávez for the presidency at the elections in 2006, but did rather better than many observers had expected. In the process, he established himself as a key figure in the top echelon of the Opposition, not least by being willing to take on Chávez against the odds when quite a few other Opposition figures shrank from the thankless task. At the time, Chávez was running high in the opinion polls and his political star was shining brightly.
The previous mayor, Gian Carlo Di Martino, a local heavyweight in the PSUV, is the object of media allegations of misdoing while he was in office. He also denies the accusations levelled against him.