Venezuela’s Supreme Court has ratified the disqualification of Maria Corina Machado, presidential candidate for the principal opposition coalition. Their decision bars her from competing in Venezuela’s presidential elections, which are expected to take place in the second half of 2024. The Court also disqualified Henrique Capriles, who has been a presidential contender twice before.
The US State Department criticized the Court ruling, calling it “inconsistent with the commitment by Nicolás Maduro’s representatives to hold a competitive Venezuelan presidential election in 2024.”
In a brief statement on their website, the State Department added: “The prohibition to run lacked basic elements, as Machado neither received a copy of the allegations against her nor was afforded the opportunity to respond to those allegations.”
“This deeply concerning decision runs contrary to the commitments made by Maduro and his representatives under the Barbados electoral roadmap agreement to allow all parties to select their candidates for the presidential election. The United States is currently reviewing our Venezuela sanctions policy, based on this development and the recent political targeting of democratic opposition candidates and civil society,” the statement concluded.
The sentence was handed down by the Supreme Court’s Political Administrative Chamber and was read over Venezuela’s State television channel VTV. The ruling stated that the Supreme Court declared inadmissible the request for precautionary protection filed by the former deputy from the Liberal Party [Machado], who had hoped this sanction would be lifted through the case review mechanism agreed upon between the government and the opposition Unified Democratic Platform. In the case of Capriles, the justification given was that the review request submitted by the former opposition governor, “does not meet the established requirements” of the agreement signed by the government and the opposition for the examination of these cases.
The Court’s “arguments” against Machado
The document specified that Machado was disqualified for having “participated in the corruption conspiracy orchestrated” by former Parliamentary head Juan Guaido, as well as for failing to comply with the Venezuelan norms by accepting “her accreditation as an alternative envoy” at the request of Panama, for a 2014 debate held before the Organization of American States.
On December 15, the last day before the deadline for filing requests, the anti-Chavista candidate formally asked the Supreme Court to review her case and insisted that there is no administrative procedure that bars her from running.
The original sanction from the Comptroller’s Office was levied in 2015, banning Machado from running for one year. This only came to light in June 2023, after opposition deputy Jose Brito asked the institution for information regarding Machado’s political status.
Friday’s high court ruling establishes that the sanction is valid for 15 years, starting on September 2021.
In December, Machado expressed her willingness to “do everything there is to do,” so that the road to “clean and free” presidential elections “could be maintained and could advance.” In her quest to do so, she turned to the Venezuelan Supreme Court, in what she viewed as “an unambiguous path towards the defeat” of longstanding Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The former deputy swept the October 22, 2023, opposition primary, receiving 92.35% of the votes.
Machado declares she’ll continue the “struggle”
Maria Corina Machado, presidential candidate for the principal opposition coalition in Venezuela, assured she’d continue struggling for “free elections,” despite the court ratifying the ban on her holding of public office, a ruling that bars her from participating in the 2024 elections.
Machado wrote on her social network that the Court decision ends the agreement signed in Barbados between the government and the opposition Unified Democratic Platform, to lay out “electoral guarantees,” as well as promising a review of the various bans placed on candidates.
“The regime decided to put an end to the Barbados agreement. What won’t end is our struggle for the conquest of democracy through free and clean elections,” Machado declared.
In her judgement, this decision signifies that Maduro and “his criminal system” have chosen “fraudulent elections,” something she insists she’s not going to allow.
Capriles still betting on an “electoral path”
Henrique Capriles, two-time candidate for the presidency of Venezuela, insisted on the need for the country to follow an “electoral path.” He made this statement minutes after the Supreme Court ratified the disqualification that the Comptroller’s Office levied against him in 2017, banning him from holding public office until 2032.
“Today, more than ever, nothing and no one will take us off the electoral path, the exercise of the right to vote. We Venezuelans must have an alternative that can compete and change the worst government in our history,” stated the opposition candidate.
“What they can never ban is the sentiment among Venezuelans for change, and their desire for a country where the Constitution and the laws are equal and respected by all,” he continued.
In addition, he reiterated that 2024, with presidential elections expected for the second half, “must be the year of the Venezuelan people.”
The high court’s Political Administrative Chamber declared inadmissible the request for precautionary protection introduced by Capriles’ defense team against the sanction imposed by the Comptroller’s Office, and ratified their decision, in which Capriles was considered responsible for “administrative irregularities” that occurred during his time as governor of Miranda State.
Bans lifted for a journalist and a former deputy
The high court’s decisions, first regarding Capriles and later regarding Machado, were made known after the same Chamber announced the lifting of political bans on journalist Leocenis Garcia and former deputy Richard Mardo. Garcia and Mardo are both opposition leaders who submitted requests to the mechanism for case review that was agreed upon during negotiations between the Venezuelan executive branch and the Unified Democratic Platform, the principal anti-Chavista bloc.
Among the agreements for “electoral guarantees” that were signed in Barbados in October 2023, both sides agreed on this path, with an eye towards the 2024 presidential elections which have not yet been definitively scheduled. The candidate for the United Democratic Platform, Maria Corina Machado was hoping that the sanction that bans her from holding public office would be lifted before these elections.
In total, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced their authorization of five opposition candidates, including Garcia and Mardo. The latter two are “authorized for the exercise of public function, regardless of any criminal liability that may arise.”
Leocenis Garcia asked the Supreme Court on December 7, 2023 to review his disqualification. At the time, he recalled that he has been “imprisoned eight times” in the past 25 years for opposing the Chavista government and has now spent “two years disqualified” since attempting to run for the position of Caracas mayor.
For his part, in 2021, Mardo attempted to run for mayor of a municipality of Aragua State, in the north of Venezuela, but was unable to do so because of a political ban imposed on him in 2017.
Venezuelan government insists they’ve complied with the Barbados agreements
Jorge Rodriguez, head of the Venezuelan government’s delegation for negotiating with the opposition, asserted that they’ve complied with the signed agreements regarding electoral guarantees. He made this statement minutes after the Venezuelan Supreme Court ratified the political disqualification of the principal opposition leader, Maria Corina Machado.
“Despite the serious threats against the country’s peace, coming from extreme right-wing sectors, the mechanism established within the framework of the Barbados agreements has been fulfilled,” said Rodriguez – who is also president of the Venezuelan National Assembly.
Jorge Rodriguez reiterated that presidential elections would take place in Venezuela this year, “though there be rain, thunder, or lightening,” and with or without signed accords, in reference to last October’s agreements between the Venezuelan Executive branch and the Unified Democratic Platform to set conditions for these presidential elections.
With information from EFE.
This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.