US condemns ban on Venezuelan opposition leader’s candidacy and puts sanctions relief under review

Caracas Venezuela –

The United States government and nearly 30 conservative world leaders on Saturday condemned the decision by Venezuela’s highest court to block the presidential candidacy of opposition leader María Corina Machado.

However, the Biden administration did not commit to reimposing economic sanctions on Venezuela, which it has threatened to do if President Nicolás Maduro’s government fails to ensure a level playing field for the country’s presidential elections this year.

“The United States is currently reviewing our sanctions policy on Venezuela, based on this development and recent political attacks on democratic opposition candidates and civil society,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. a statement.

Machado won a presidential primary held in October by the U.S.-backed opposition faction. He won more than 90% of the vote despite the Venezuelan government announcing a 15-year ban on him running for president just days after he formally entered the race. in June.

The former legislator and old enemy of the government was able to participate in the primaries because the elections were organized by an independent commission of Venezuela’s electoral authorities. Machado insisted throughout the campaign that he never received official notification of the ban and said that voters, not those loyal to the ruling party, were the legitimate decision-makers about his candidacy.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice on Friday confirmed the ban, which was based on alleged fraud and tax violations, and accuses Machado of seeking the economic sanctions that the United States imposed on Venezuela.

The ruling came more than three months after Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition reached an agreement to work on basic conditions for a fair election. The two sides agreed to hold elections in the second half of 2024, invite international election observers and create a process for would-be presidential candidates to appeal their bans.

The deal led Washington to ease some economic sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, gas and mining sectors.

Miller said Friday’s decision by Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice “is contrary to the commitments made by Maduro and his representatives” under the agreement signed in October on the Caribbean island of Barbados. He said the appeal process “lacked basic elements, as Machado did not receive a copy of the accusations against him nor did he have the opportunity to respond to those accusations.”

Gerardo Blyde, chief negotiator for the opposition group known as the Unitary Platform, said Saturday that the court’s ruling violates the Barbados agreement. He urged Maduro’s allies to overturn it, arguing that the decision as it stands constitutes a “violation of due process and the right to due defense” of Machado.

But Maduro’s chief negotiator, National Assembly leader Jorge Rodríguez, insisted Friday that Venezuela’s government has not violated the terms of the agreement and promised to hold presidential elections this year. While the opposition candidate remains in doubt, Maduro will seek six more years in office.

The entire decade of Maduro’s presidency has been marked by a political, social and economic crisis. Under his leadership, millions of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty and more than 7.4 million have migrated.

In a statement on Saturday, the international non-governmental organization Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas said Machado “remains the legitimate representative of the Venezuelan opposition and its presidential candidate before the international community.” The letter was signed by approximately 30 world leaders from Spain and Latin America, including former presidents Iván Duque of Colombia, Mauricio Macri of Argentina, and Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón of Mexico.

The leaders wrote that the Maduro government’s actions through Venezuela’s highest court, “whose leadership has recently been entrusted to a member of the official party… proves its repeated disregard for the essential elements and fundamental components of democracy.”

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