Venezuela: Supreme Court Denies María Corina Machado Appeal, Ratifies Political Ban

The Venezuelan opposition is at a crossroads with the far-right leader barred from running in this year’s elections.
MCM political ban disqualification
Machado is on the record endorsing US sanctions and a potential foreign intervention. (AFP)

Caracas, January 27, 2024 ( – The Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) rejected opposition politician María Corina Machado’s challenge to her present 15-year disqualification from holding public office.

In a ruling issued on Friday afternoon, Venezuela’s maximum judicial authority pointed to Machado’s alleged participation in corruption schemes headed by former self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó. 

It likewise brought up the hardline opposition’s actions endangering Venezuelan foreign assets, including US-based refiner CITGO and Colombia-based agrochemical firm Monómeros, and Machado’s support for US-led sanctions.

The court also mentioned the violations that led to the far-right opposition figure’s original ban in 2014. However, the ruling referred to a resolution from 2021 that had not been made public previously, making it unclear whether Machado is barred through 2029 or 2036.

The Maduro government and the US-backed opposition set up the procedure to review disqualifications as an extension of the October 2023 Barbados Agreement that established conditions for the upcoming presidential vote.

On November 30, the two sides announced that disqualified politicians could file appeals before the Supreme Court until December 15. Nevertheless, the document established conditions for candidates such as a commitment to defend Venezuela’s sovereignty and reject violent actions.

For her part, through to the final day, Machado repeatedly stated that she would not present a challenge, arguing that there was “nothing to appeal.” She then changed course under suspected US pressure and filed a last-minute motion right before the deadline.

The US-supported political leader reacted to the judicial confirmation of her political ban by declaring that the Nicolás Maduro government had “decided to terminate the Barbados Agreement.”

“What is NOT over is our fight for democracy through free and fair elections,” she wrote on X/Twitter. “Let there be no doubt, we will continue all the way.”

Machado, who hails from Venezuelan elites, has consistently been one of the most extremist opposition voices against the Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro administrations. Apart from publicly endorsing economic sanctions against Venezuela, she went as far as endorsing a foreign military intervention to oust the government.

Machado rose to prominence amidst opposition ranks in recent months and resoundingly won a self-styled primary contest in October. In subsequent interviews, she stressed that she had no plans to step aside and support another candidate should her ineligibility remain in place. 

The recent Supreme Court ruling sparked discussion on social media from government and opposition supporters alike. High-ranking Socialist Party (PSUV) leader Diosdado Cabello called it an act of “justice.”

The Supreme Court decided on several other political ban appeals as well. Politicians Leocenis García, Daniel Ceballos, Pablo Pérez, Rosa Brandonisio and Richard Mardo had their disqualifications lifted.

In contrast, apart from Machado, former two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles also saw his ban upheld. He was barred for 15 years in 2017 for his role in violent anti-government protests.

Capriles likewise reacted on social media, claiming that Venezuelan authorities could not block “Venezuelans’ desire for change.”

US officials did not react immediately to the Supreme Court announcements. After the Barbados Accords, which were accompanied by a limited easing of sanctions, Washington threatened to reimpose coercive measures if Machado was not cleared to run in the presidential elections.

A group of Florida Republicans publicly endorsed Machado and demanded that the Biden administration “recognize” her as a candidate. On Friday, Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio called on the White House to levy sanctions against Venezuela.

The State Department reacted on Saturday, with spokesman Matthew Miller calling the Supreme Court rulings “deeply concerning” and stating that the US was “reviewing” its sanctions policy in the wake of the latest developments.

For its part, the ruling PSUV has yet to confirm whether Maduro will seek a third term later this year.

The ongoing talks with the hardline opposition are in jeopardy as well after Venezuelan officials arrested more than 30 people for alleged involvement in plots to destabilize the country, including plans to assassinate Maduro. 

“The Barbados Accords have been mortally wounded, [they] are in intensive care,” the Venezuelan president said during a broadcast on Thursday.

Caracas and Washington have progressed in backchannel talks in recent months as US officials looked to offer support for opposition politicians as well as address concerns over rising energy prices. The two sides conducted a prisoner swap in December that saw Venezuelan government envoy Alex Saab returned in exchange for 10 US citizens, including two Green Berets who took part in a military invasion attempt.