Mexico City, Mexico, November 7, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Far-right opposition politician Maria Corina Machado, winner of the opposition primary, has pledged not to step aside under any circumstance despite being officially disqualified from running for the presidency.
Machado expressed her position in an interview with Spanish newspaper El País published Saturday where she also signaled that she is relying on pressure from Washington, and the US Department of State in particular, in order to secure her name on the ballot.
“I’m sure you read [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken’s statement where he clearly said that enabling candidates to participate in the primaries is a core point within the agreement that was signed,” said Machado, referring to the Barbados agreement signed between the Venezuelan government and opposition on October 17.
However, the agreement does not compel the government to lift her disqualification. The document, titled “Partial Agreement on the Promotion of Political Rights and Electoral Guarantees for All,” instead specifies that parties be allowed to choose their candidates and that they be allowed to run insofar as they comply with the Venezuelan Constitution and laws.
Following the signing of the accords, Venezuela’s National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, who heads the government delegation in talks with the opposition, was emphatic that disqualified candidates would not be allowed to run.
Machado’s disqualification came in 2015 when Venezuela’s Comptroller General suspended Machado’s political rights after the far-right leader neglected to disclose the full extent of her earnings during her term as a congresswoman. Her disqualification was confirmed earlier this year after José Brito, an opposition lawmaker at odds with Machado’s hardline bloc, requested an update.
Brito was also behind the complaint submitted to the Electoral Branch of the Venezuelan Supreme Court that subsequently suspended the opposition primary process that saw Machado chosen to represent the “Unitary Platform” in the 2024 presidential contest. Brito’s complaint stemmed from Machado’s inclusion on the primary ballot.
Machado overwhelmingly won the October 22 primary process, which was self-organized and relied on manual voting, securing over 90 percent of the vote. The self-styled National Primary Commission claimed over 2 million people participated in the primary, a number that has come under heavy scrutiny, with the commission failing to produce audited results. As part of its investigation, the Venezuelan Supreme Court has requested documentation from the vote organizers.
In her interview with El País, Machado emphasized the primary turnout as evidence of a shift in Venezuelan society. Her strategy is to rely on the primary being viewed as legitimate so as to mobilize supporters and force electoral authorities to include her on the 2024 ballot.
“We have been creating conditions for this situation to be reversed. It is a political question that in the end will depend on the balance of political forces,” Machado told the Spanish outlet.
However, the inclusion of Machado is widely understood as a redline for the Nicolás Maduro government and authorities are not expected to change their position.
The far-right politician’s refusal to consider a “plan B” should she not have her ban lifted raises concerns that the hardline opposition could once again revert to a strategy of violent street protests and electoral abstention. Luis Vicente León, director of the pro-opposition Datanálisis pollster, argued that it is a “mistake” to turn the election into a “defense of Machado’s participation.”
“The opposition could fall into the abstention trap like it has done in the past,” he said in a TV interview.
Her hardline stance has likewise sparked debate within opposition ranks.
Machado also explicitly dangled the threat of the imposition of US sanctions as a means to coerce the government to include her on the ballot.
“The one who has the capacity so far to generate incentives is the United States Government. And they have been very emphatic that if [this condition] is not met, the licenses will be reverted,” said Machado.
In an interview with NTN24, Juan González, the White House’s chief Latin America advisor, said that the US had set November 30 as the deadline for candidates to regain their ability to run in the election or else sanctions relief would be ended.
Last month the US Treasury Department issued licenses “suspending select sanctions”, a move that allows for the production, investment and sale in the Venezuelan oil, gas and gold sectors. Since then, the Venezuelan government and the state-owned oil firm PDVSA have moved quickly to secure new contracts.
The waivers were announced as a direct response to the Barbados agreement but came with a warning that the Biden administration could suspend or revoke them should Washington unilaterally determine that the Venezuelan government has not followed through on agreements.
The Barbados accords also included a pledge to invite international observation missions. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Venezuela earlier this month to ascertain the possibility of an electoral mission. In a brief statement, the Carter Center said its team would meet with the National Electoral Council, the signatories to the agreement, and various political parties.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.