Practicing for Liberties

Venezuelan conservative politician Maria Corina Machado won the opposition’s first presidential primary this week, a victory that could see her challenging socialist incumbent Nicolás Maduro in next year’s presidential elections, the Washington Post reported.

Results showed that Machado secured more than 92 percent of the vote in an unofficial poll that saw more than 1.5 million Venezuelans – in the country and abroad – cast their ballots.

The government did not support Sunday’s primary vote, dismissing it as fraud.

The vote came less than a week after the Venezuelan government and the opposition signed an agreement in Barbados to hold competitive and internationally monitored presidential elections in 2024.

Under the agreement, the government will allow all parties to select their candidates, grant them access to media and allow international observers to monitor the vote.

The Barbados deal is part of a larger agreement between the United States and Venezuela to ease sanctions: In return for free and fair presidential elections, the Biden administration would ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold industry.

Following the signing of the Barbados deal, the US released a general license permitting American companies to participate in transactions that were previously prohibited, particularly in the state-controlled energy industry. This license is initially valid for six months with the possibility of renewal contingent on the authoritarian government “(meeting) its commitments” for elections, and “with respect to those who are wrongfully detained.”

Analysts said that despite overwhelming support for Machado, there are lingering questions surrounding her candidacy and eligibility for the 2024 presidential election.

The government has banned Machado from holding public office for 15 years. During the Barbados negotiations, officials did not promise to lift bans on numerous popular opposition candidates.

Machado also will have to unite Venezuela’s fractured opposition and her policy goals – such as privatizing the lucrative state-run oil industry – could alienate some members of the opposition movement.

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