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

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The U.S. government on Saturday condemned the decision of Venezuela’s highest court to block the presidential candidacy of opposition leader María Corina Machado.

The Biden administration, however, remained noncommittal about reimposing economic sanctions on Venezuela, which it has threatened to do if the government of President Nicolás Maduro failed to ensure a level playing field for the country’s next 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,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

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

The former lawmaker and longtime government foe was able to participate in the primary because the election was organized by a commission independent of Venezuela’s electoral authorities. Machado insisted throughout the campaign that she never received official notification of the ban and said voters, not ruling-party loyalists, were the rightful decision-makers of her candidacy.

Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice on Friday upheld the ban, which was based on alleged fraud and tax violations and accuses Machado of seeking the economic sanctions the U.S. imposed on Venezuela.

The ruling came months after Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition reached a deal on basic conditions for a fair election, which the two sides agreed would take place in the second half of 2024. The deal led Washington to ease some economic sanctions on Maduro’s government.

Miller said Friday’s decision from Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice “runs contrary to the commitments made by Maduro and his representatives” under the agreement signed in October in the Caribbean island of Barbados.

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