The chief negotiator for Venezuela’s opposition has accused Nicolas Maduro’s government of a “repressive escalation” ahead of presidential elections this year, after the Supreme Court upheld a ban against the opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado.
Speaking at a press conference in Caracas on Saturday, Gerardo Blyde said Maduro’s government had an obligation to hold free elections, “such as inviting international observers and setting a date for the vote.”
“It’s not happening, and instead they’re using the power of the state to begin a repressive escalation,” Blyde said.
He also rejected any claims that the opposition was seeking to forcefully remove Maduro from power.
Both the opposition and the United States have accused the Maduro government of repudiating a historic agreement signed in Barbados in October 2023 – in which Maduro pledged to hold free and fair elections in exchange for sanctions relief, among other conditions.
Supported by the United States, the opposition and Maduro struck a deal in October 2023 known as the Barbados Agreement, which saw 10 Americans released from detention in Venezuela in exchange for the release of one of Maduro’s allies. As part of the deal, Venezuela agreed to hold free and fair elections in 2024 in exchange for sanctions relief.
“The Barbados agreement was arguably the most important political document of the last two decades in our country,” said Blyde, who was involved in the negotiations.
Both the US and the Venezuelan opposition have said that banning Machado from running in the election constitutes a repudiation of the deal. The US is “currently reviewing” their sanctions policy, the US State Department announced in a statement on Saturday.
The president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and a leading member of the ruling party, Jorge Rodriguez, wrote on X on Friday saying, “with or without sanctions in Venezuela, in 2024, there will be presidential elections because this is established in our Constitution.”
But in a televised press conference held in the capital Caracas on Saturday, Venezuelan government spokesman Hector Rodriguez accused the opposition of masterminding a “coup d’etat” that included the murder of Maduro.
“No negotiation process can be used to justify a coup d’etat. There are people in the opposition who have been directly involved in plans to kill the president and call for a military uprising,” Rodriguez said, without offering evidence.
“That is unjustifiable. […] What was agreed in Barbados concerned general elements, but we never discussed about crime forgiveness, and we never discussed about any particular candidate.”
Rodriguez serves as Governor for the state of Miranda in central Venezuela and has participated in several negotiation processes between the government and opposition. He has insisted the Barbados agreement was still valid and that Machado was disqualified due to corruption charges – which she has repeatedly denied.
He also accused the United States, which is considering re-installing economic sanctions on Venezuela following the Supreme Court ruling, of attempting to “blackmail” Venezuela and insisted that the presidential election will go ahead “with or without sanctions.”
“Our road is for a peaceful transition. We never engaged in conspiracies, coup plotting or any armed intervention,” he said.
15-year ban on running for office
The Maduro-controlled Supreme Court announced Friday that it had disqualified Machado from holding any public office for 15 years, basing their decision on a 2021 ruling in which Machado was found guilty of embezzlement.
The court found that Machado was part of several corruption scandals involving the opposition, including the alleged pilfering of four billion US dollars and damages to the public healthcare system by blocking medicines for HIV and diabetes.
In June 2023, Machado was also barred from running for public office by a Maduro-aligned office that accused her of tax fraud.
Shortly after Friday’s ruling, Machado posted on X lamenting the decision.
“The regime decided [to end] the Barbados Agreement, what is NOT [!] ending is our fight to achieve democracy through free and fair elections. Maduro and his criminal system chose the worst part for them: fraudulent elections. That’s not going to happen,” she wrote.
Three campaign directors were detained earlier this month, according to Machado and opposition party Vente Venezuela.
The party’s lawyer, Perkins Rocha, described the detentions as part of a “policy of persecution” toward Machado’s campaign, adding that several party offices had been vandalized with threatening messages that read “Bolivarian fury.”
Machado at the time said that “Bolivarian fury means aggression, disappearances, persecution and obviously reflects the fear of a regime to measure itself,” and asked the international community to help “stop this madness.”