Meet the Opposition Leaders the Government has Banned from Even Running for Office

Inhabilitaciones have become the government's go-to mechanism for cherry-picking its opponents. Here's a refresher for those who've lost count.

What does a government do when it wants to choose its own opposition? Simple: it disqualifies the politicians it really doesn’t want to see win. This doesn’t just set the stage for winning at the battle in the ballot boxes. It cuts down to size some leaders who threaten its power.

Henrique Capriles, a former presidential candidate and governor of Miranda, has recently been added to a long list of opposition leaders disqualified from running for office.

After months of rumors, Capriles announced the news on Twitter, just a day after a massive demonstration in Caracas showed a strong and united opposition.

This leaves Capriles out of any regional or presidential election in the near future, after he was announced as Primero Justicia’s standad-bearer.

That year was crucial for chavismo: they were still reeling from the 2007 referendum loss and they were in no mood for electoral setbacks.

There’s nothing new there. Chavismo’s been disqualifying politicians it feels threatened since way back in 2008, when it did it to Leopoldo López.

It’s easy to see why. Think of a chavista, Leopoldo is the opposite: handsome, with an exquisite political breeding, a Harvard guy, he’s even related to Simón Bolívar.

Before reaching the age of 30, Leopoldo had already been elected as the mayor of Chacao. Despite his sifrinito look, he was winning a following among working class Venezuelans. Definitely enough to raise government alarm bells. In 2008, he was re-elected as mayor of Chacao with 81% of the vote, and he was going for the Alcaldía Mayor with a lead in the polls.

Until now, Maduro prefers to keep Leopoldo away from streets since perception of his own image might not go worse, after all

That year was crucial for chavismo: they were still reeling from the 2007 referendum loss and they were in no mood for electoral setbacks.

So in April 2008 the contralor announced that Leopoldo would be disqualified from running for any office for 9 years: the Alcaldía Metropolitana was out, but so was Miraflores in 2012. Before that term elapsed, he got thrown in jail where, according to the last tribunal decision, he’s due to stay until 2030.

Opinion polls consistently find he’s the opposition’s most popular leader, even from behind bars.

Two years after Leopoldo’s disqualification, Manuel Rosales started to make trouble for chavismo. Soon, the anti-corruption investigators were out to get him and he too was disqualified: the second time chavismo uses disqualification as a political tool.

Political bans seemed to have been left behind when Chávez died, but 2015’s parliamentary elections brought them back into vogue. Summer was a good time for the government to get rid of a few candidates. Enzo Scarano, the former mayor of San Diego, Carabobo, was soon next: a one year ban got doled out to one of the opposition’s most vocal candidates. Guarimbas in his area were a good enough excuse.

His wife did get elected mayor a couple of years later, but Scarano’s national star gradually dimmed. Then, in March 2017, a new ban on Enzo: 15 years. The decision was made public in a letter that the contralor sent to the CNE without offering any further explanation. This will leave Enzo out of the race in the next regional elections too.

Next, Manuel Rosales was in for seconds. After he decided to come back to Venezuela, he was both jailed and given a seven and a half year disqualification. He had been planning to run for National Assembly.

Undaunted, Rosales was sure he could figure out away around the ban. “I don’t know how, but I’m going to the Governor’s Office” he said amid rumors of his negotiations with the government. If he achieves his goal, it would be the first time that the chavista government repeals a ban.

Nor was Rosales the only Zuliano to come in for the disqualification treatment. Pablo Pérez was next. The government turned a simple administrative penalty into a ten year ban for the former governor. The decision ended his national profile: there is no sign of him in the MUD, or any important manifestation, and his presence in the media has been reduced to one press note a week.

(María Corina Machado) was banned from running for any public position for the following year… Before that, she had already been stripped off her chair in the parliament, under accusation of traición a la patria.

The list of the banned also includes María Corina Machado, one of the hardest-hitting critics of the regime, if not the hardest.

In July 2015, a notification from the Contraloría let her know that she was banned from running for any public position for the following year. The letter, which explained nothing, left Machado out of the election for the National Assembly. Before that, she had already been stripped off her seat in parliament, under accusation of traición a la patria. On July 13, 2016, her disqualification left her just as a possible candidate for a future election.

Daniel Ceballos, a regional leader from Táchira and political party buddy of Leopoldo, was taken off of the list of candidates in the same way when he tried to throw his hat into the ring for an Assembly seat. The decision expired on May last year while he was under house arrest — now he’s back in jail. 

This is a pattern you see all over the world right now: Nicaragua, Iran, Russia, wherever there’s an autocracy trying to masquerade as a democracy, you find governments picking and choosing who can run against it. So of course Venezuela’s on that list too.