Maria Corina Machado, who handily won the Venezuelan opposition primary for the 2024 presidential election, is currently out of the race: the Supreme Court of Venezuela, often accused of being at the behest of those in power, has confirmed Friday January 26 his ineligibility.

Ms. Machado, 56, “is disqualified for fifteen years,” writes the Court, ruling “null” the request of the candidate, who contested her ineligibility for administrative irregularities and treason after having supported American sanctions against Nicolas’s government Maduro. The opposition has always refused these sanctions, believing that Ms. Machado was innocent.

President Nicolas Maduro is taking the “worst path” towards “fraudulent elections,” responded Ms. Machado. ” It will not happen. Let no one doubt it, we will go to the end,” she said on the X network. “The regime has decided to terminate the Barbados agreement. What is NOT over is our struggle to win democracy through free and fair elections,” she added.

The Court’s decision was eagerly awaited, with the opposition – which had boycotted the 2018 presidential election – and the United States having made the lifting of opponents’ ineligibility one of their main priorities.

Ineligibility, a ploy to rule out opponents

Many observers believe that Ms. Machado, a liberal renowned for her combativeness, may be able to rally behind her an opposition often divided in the past against Nicolas Maduro, who will seek a third presidential term.

The government has often used the stratagem of ineligibility to exclude rivals both at the national and local levels.

The lifting of the ineligibility of opponents is one of the main sticking points in the negotiations between power and opposition. The agreement they signed in Barbados in October 2023 opened the possibility for those “aspiring to run” in the 2024 presidential election to challenge their ineligibility. Ms Machado had submitted an appeal in this context.

The Barbados agreement also provided that the presidential election would be held in the second half of 2024 with the presence of international observers. The United States announced a six-month relaxation of its sanctions following these agreements.

Unlucky candidate in 2012 against former president Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, then against current president Nicolas Maduro in 2013, the opponent Henrique Capriles, who had given up participating in the opposition primaries, also saw his ineligibility confirmed for fifteen years, due to alleged administrative irregularities when he was governor of Miranda State.

“What they will never be able to disqualify is the Venezuelan people’s aspiration for change. The dream of having a country where the Constitution and laws are equal and respected by all. Where the government takes care of ensuring the well-being and quality of life of the population (…). 2024 must be the year of the Venezuelan people,” Mr. Capriles reacted on X.

Accused of administrative irregularities, Ms. Machado was declared ineligible for a year in 2015 for having participated as “alternate ambassador” of Panama in a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). Panama had invited her to allow her to denounce the alleged violations of human rights during the demonstrations demanding the departure of Mr. Maduro. The repression left around forty dead.

Ms. Machado saw the duration of her ineligibility extended to fifteen years in June 2023, for having “requested the application of American sanctions”. She has always assured that she was never officially informed of this measure. Despite her ineligibility, she received more than two million votes (92% of the vote) during the opposition primaries in October.

On Thursday, President Maduro said that the Barbados agreements were “mortally wounded” after the authorities announced in recent days that they had foiled plots to assassinate him.

For his part, the President of Parliament Jorge Rodriguez, also head of the delegation of power during the negotiations with the opposition, had downplayed the importance of these Barbados agreements: “With or without sanctions, with or without opposition, with or without international observers (…) in 2024 there will be presidential elections because that is what the constitution provides.” He also hinted at the court decision regarding Ms. Machado: “There is no question that this woman will be a candidate in any election whatsoever. »