Venezuela: Opposition Begins Primary Race as Far Right Threatens ‘Military Rebellion’

President Maduro announced the mobilization of “Peace Squads” in order to prevent the outbreak of violence by the opposition.
esús María Casal, president of the self-styled National Primary Commission, addresses a press conference. (@cnprimariave / X)

Mexico City, Mexico, August 22, 2023 ( – The race to select the opposition’s candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela officially began Tuesday amid threats of a “military rebellion” by a close ally of far-right primary candidate Maria Corina Machado.

After years of pursuing extra-constitutional regime change methods and electoral boycotts, the primary will see Venezuela’s hardline opposition return to electoral politics. The process will be conducted by the self-styled National Primary Commission (CNP) without the assistance of the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE) following the resignation of the electoral authority’s board members.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the CNP announced that the 13 candidates who will compete for the opportunity to challenge Chavismo in the upcoming constitutionally mandated presidential election had signed a pact that will govern the process, adding that campaigning will conclude on October 20, with the vote taking place on October 22.

Among those seeking nomination is Maria Corina Machado, a far-right politician who has enthusiastically embraced Washington’s regime change plots. Other confirmed candidates include former Bolívar governor Andrés Velásquez and former Miranda governor Henrique Capriles, who lost presidential races in 2012 and 2013 and is banned from holding political office.

However, the CNP was forced to issue a second, more carefully worded, communique rejecting “violent statements” after former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma made a thinly veiled threat in support of Machado, who has been disqualified from holding public office.

Ledezma told media outlets in the US that Machado’s team is in talks with military officials to ensure she is allowed to present her candidacy in spite of her official disqualification.

“The only way to be able to carry out the registration of a woman who is being vetoed by the regime is by starting civil disobedience,” said Ledezma.

The former mayor and fugitive from justice denied that his comments constituted a coup plot. His comments nonetheless provoked a sharp response from Venezuelan officials. Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the issuing of an arrest warrant for Ledezma as a result of his comments, adding that Venezuela would continue to press for his extradition from Spain, where he is currently in exile.

Saab said that Ledezma’s call for “civil disobedience” was an echo of the hardline opposition’s past violent tactics that sought the ouster of the democratically elected government via insurrection. Ledezma was charged in 2015 for allegedly supporting so-called “guarimbas” intent on violently destabilizing the country. He has also been linked with far-right anti-government militants such as Lorent Gómez Saleh, who credited Ledezma as the key political backer of violent groups.

President Nicolás Maduro said that Ledezma’s comments constituted a threat of a “military rebellion” and ordered a “Special Anti-Coup Plan” be put into action. The plan would see up to four million citizens organized into “Peace Squads”, together with the Bolivarian Militia and the Armed Forces, mobilized throughout the country to prevent the outbreak of the type of violence seen in previous years.

“The sectors of the extreme right that have done so much damage to this country in recent years are back to their old ways,” said Maduro during a televised broadcast on Monday. “With these statements Antonio Ledezma and all the coup groups he supports are left exposed.”.

For their part, members of the opposition have spoken out against alleged threats and acts of intimidation against them. Maduro promised an investigation.

The Venezuelan Constitution states that presidential elections should be held in 2024 but electoral authorities have yet to announce a definitive date. Both government and opposition spokespeople brought up the possibility of the presidential elections being brought forward. However, as recently as March, Maduro had ruled out holding the vote in 2023.

The Venezuelan president has also recently criticized statements by European Union (EU) officials concerning Venezuela’s presidential contest after EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell criticized Machado’s disqualification.

Venezuela’s most recent electoral contest, which saw the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela secure a resounding victory, counted on a 136-member European Union’s (EU) observation mission. The mission marked the first time that the EU sent observers to the country since 2005.

Despite a thawing of relations between Venezuela and some EU member-states such as France and Spain, the EU report likewise did not bring about sanctions relief, Venezuela’s principal demand.

The lack of sanctions relief is also responsible for the lack of progress in negotiations between the government and the opposition. The talks, largely focused on securing an agreement concerning conditions of the upcoming vote and a commitment from both parties to respect the outcome, have been suspended for months. A deal, lauded by both sides, that would have seen billions of frozen Venezuelan funds released and invested in urgent infrastructure projects and other social needs, has yet to materialize.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Portugal.