The government-controlled Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled on Friday that opposition leader Maria Corina Machado will not be allowed to run in the presidential elections set for later this year, dealing a significant blow to the democratic transition roadmap that leader Nicolás Maduro agreed to with the Biden administration in Barbados last year.
The ruling against Machado upholds a 15-year ban imposed on her from holding public office. The opposition leader won a primary election vote last year, and according to most polls would easily beat ruling Maduro in a presidential election.
Given her high popularity, most analysts believe that Machado’s candidacy posed the biggest challenge the Maduro regime has faced in recent years and that the ruler would do anything in his power to keep her name off the ballot, despite agreeing with the Biden administration that all opposition leaders would be allowed to run for public office.
“It is not surprising that dictator Nicolas Maduro is not allowing Maria Corina Machado to run. He is afraid and knows he would lose in a free and fair election,” said Eddy Acevedo, chief of staff at the Wilson Center in Washington and former senior foreign policy adviser to former Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“From the beginning, the Barbados agreement was not worth the paper it was written on. Now the U.S. needs to respond with decisive action by snapping back all sanctions, including removal of the oil licenses, in accordance with [U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’] redline from October 2023,” Acevedo said.
The ruling – which comes a day after a key regime official, Jorge Rodriguez, had warned that there was no way Machado would be allowed to run in the election – said that her disqualification stems from her alleged participation in a corruption scheme alongside opposition leader Juan Guaidó that led to Venezuela losing access to about $4 billion in international funds.
The court also criticized Machado for supporting Washington’s adoption of sanctions against Caracas’ socialist regime.
The U.S. had been waiting for Maduro to comply with the commitments his governmment made in a series of negotiations held throughout last year with members of the Biden administration.
The talks culminated with the signing in Barbados of two separate accords with opposition leaders to hold presidential elections in the second half of this year. Prior to the signing, representatives of the Biden administration and Maduro held several meetings over the persistent political and economic crisis that has led millions of Venezuelans to seek refuge in neighboring countries and the U.S.
As part of its commitments, the regime agreed to lift bans blocking opposition leaders from running for office, implement deep reforms to the often criticized electoral system, allow international observers to monitor the election and free all political prisoners.
In exchange, the Biden administration, which had kept in place sanctions on Venezuelan oil, granted a six-month general license temporarily authorizing transactions involving the oil and gas sector in Venezuela, and a second general license authorizing the operations of state-run Minerven, a previously sanctioned gold-mining enterprise that had been trading on the black market.