A Blow to Fair Play: Venezuela’s Judicial Blockade of Opposition Leader María Corina Machado

By: Nicholas Perez-Battistini, 2L

Last month, Venezuela’s hopes for free and fair elections suffered a significant setback when the nation’s highest court upheld a prohibition against María Corina Machado, a steadfast critic of the government and the winner of the opposition’s primary. Venezuela’s electoral process is showing no signs of reform, where the country’s highest court, loyal to authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro, has barred the opposition leader from holding public office. Additionally, members of Machado’s team have been arbitrarily arrested by the Maduro regime. These moves from the Venezuelan Government come just as Machado was gaining momentum as a candidate in the upcoming 2024 presidential elections. Machado has long been an opponent of Maduro’s corrupt policies and was initially banned for supporting American sanctions against the Maduro government and backing the former opposition leader. The court has confirmed her disqualification, and it is a strategic effort by Maduro to silence critics and the opposition. Maduro is now effectively obstructing an agreement reached in October 2023 between his government and the opposition, which the United States had supported by lifting some sanctions.

The Biden Administration eased sanctions in exchange for promises by the regime to allow free and fair elections in 2024. Just weeks later, Maduro has decisively broken his word. Following the court’s decision, the Biden administration responded by reinstating the economic sanctions on Venezuela. The United States announced that the Treasury Department would end a license allowing transactions with Venezuela’s state-owned gold mining company, with further warnings that sanctions affecting Venezuela’s key economic sectors could be reimposed later this year if the Maduro government does not permit all presidential candidates to run. The reimposition of sanctions reflects the growing pressure on the American Government to respond to Maduro’s actions. As one news commentator puts it, “the U.S. was naive to think he’d allow a free election, and the only realistic response is to restore the sanctions.”

The ongoing situation has drawn criticism from several United States’ lawmakers that argue the Biden administration has not been adequately proactive in addressing Venezuela’ violations on democracy and human rights. The senators wrote: “in order to maintain the United States’ credibility and hold the regime accountable for its decision to subvert democratic elections, we urge you to immediately reimpose the sanctions in place before the declaration of the Barbados agreement on October 17, 2023.” The political environment in Venezuela underscores the challenges facing the opposition in their pursuit for change and the broader issues of democracy and human right. Maduro has shown he does not intend to allow actual competition in the elections, and American leaders can restore previous sanctions or enact new ones. However, the only thing the United States cannot do is turn a blind eye to Mr. Maduro as he continues to crush democracy. 

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