The Comptroller General of the Republic, Manuel Ballasteros, spoke today on his decision to bar Maria Corina Machado from holding public office for a period of one year. Ballasteros said that far from being political, the ban was simply administrative:
It’s not a political suspension. Rather, it’s a disqualification from taking on public administration roles.
While Ballasteros did not fully explain what he meant, he did reveal that the reason for the decision to bar Machado from public office stemmed from inconsistencies in expenses charged to her office when she was a National Assembly deputy.
Machado Responds to Disqualification
Earlier today, Machado held her first press conference since yesterday’s announcement. She claimed that the irregularities the Comptroller mentioned as being the reason for the ban revolve around some cestatickets [a kind of food stamp that is given to supplement income] that she did not properly declare. She said:
The brazenness, abuses and assaults have reached and extreme. The excuse that they pretend to use [against me] is that I did not declare cestatickets in my sworn declaration.
Cestatickets are food stamps given to some people as a way of supplementing their income. Machado said that she never declared cestatickets as part of her income because she never received any.
Yesterday’s announcement from the Comptroller General’s office technically means that Machado will not be able to hold office were she to win in the December 6 parliamentary elections. However, she was defiant today, and suggested that only the voters hold the power to decide who holds office:
You [Ballasteros] don’t have the power to disqualify me. I’m qualified [to hold office] through the will of the citizens, and I’m going to continue to run. I will defend my rights, but above all, I will defend the rights of Venezuelans.
Lawyer: Comptroller Has No Such Power
Criminal lawyer Alberto Arteaga told El Nacional today that the Comptroller General’s office has no legal power to disqualify someone from holding political office. Arteaga said:
Political disqualification can only be imposed by a judge after a criminal trial, which never happened.
Arteaga further stressed that the Comptroller General has no mechanism by which to ban a politician – elected by voters – from holding office.
Victor Maldonado, a political scientist, reminded El Nacional that Machado is being punished for allegedly failing to follow administrative procedures, when she herself was removed from her seat at the National Assembly in a highly irregular way:
They’re accusing Maria Corina Machado of not [following] administrative rules during her term as deputy. The fact is that she was forcefully removed from parliament, and they did not give her a chance to carry out that process.
Torrealba Calls for Show of Force at Polls
The head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, Jesus Torrealba, responded to the measure against Machado by saying that the Venezuelan people with respond with “indignation”, and called on voters to take to the polls in strength on December 6:
The response we democratic Venezuelans have to give is this: any candidate that is disqualified, we have to achieve an absolute victory in [their district], much more than whatever our initial expectations were.
Torrealba reminded supporters that San Cristobal and San Diego held elections shortly after their respective mayors were disqualified from holding office. In both cities, opposition candidates won overwhelming victories.
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