Venezuela: US sets stage to undermine elections

Maria Corina Machado is a name we will hear repeatedly as Venezuela heads towards presidential elections in July. Machado, of hard-right party ‘Vente Venezuela’, is the US candidate of choice, despite being disqualified from running for political office for 15 years on the basis of corruption allegations – to say nothing of her well-documented complicity in coups, destabilisation and assassination attempts. While the Plataforma Unitaria Democratica (PUD) opposition coalition she leads has been forced to propose a little-known former diplomat, Edmundo Gonzalez, as proxy to officially stand in her stead, she has cast herself as a figurehead for the enemies of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution and remains the poster girl of US imperialism as it prepares the ground to once again delegitimise Venezuela’s elections and provide a pretext for the resumption of sanctions.

Machado’s notoriety precedes her. She hails from one of the country’s richest families; shareholders in a string of companies including Caracas electricity, Mercantile bank and Viasa airline. She is the daughter of steel magnate Henrique Machado Zuloaga, the former CEO of the Sivensa steel company whose subsidiaries were nationalised by late Socialist party (PSUV) President Hugo Chavez in 2010. Machado has continuously attacked the Bolivarian ‘Chavista’ revolutionary process that for 25 years has been fighting to control Venezuela’s oil wealth and channel it into poverty-busting social programmes. Her vendetta is driven by class interest.

During the failed 48-hour coup of 2002, Machado was a signatory of the ‘Carmona decree’ which dissolved Venezuela’s elected parliament and constitution. Machado was invited to the Oval Office in 2005 by US President George W Bush. Meanwhile her ‘civil organisation’ Sumate, which led a failed presidential recall referendum against Chavez in 2004, has been exposed for receiving millions of US dollars from Washington’s National Endowment for Democracy. Machado’s signature appears on 2013’s leaked ‘Strategic Venezuelan Plan’ which sought to create shortages of basic goods, amplify social discontent and provoke crisis in the streets which ‘wherever possible should result in deaths and injuries’ – with the aim of provoking US and NATO intervention. Rejecting the results of the 2014 municipal elections, she led a campaign of street violence which resulted in arson attacks against public buildings, health care centres and university campuses. Makeshift roadblocks were set up in affluent communities; steel wire traps were hung above roads to decapitate motorcyclists, whilst snipers shot security forces and Chavista civilians alike. 43 people were killed. Captured mercenary Lorent Saleh named Machado in connection with his planned 48-hour killing spree. Though the plot was foiled, PSUV deputy Robert Serra, one of the named targets, was stabbed to death in his apartment. In leaked emails at the time, Machado wrote: ‘make the necessary calls, obtain financing to annihilate [President] Maduro and the rest will fall apart’, boasting that ‘We have a chequebook stronger than the regime’s to break the international security ring’.

Later, in 2018 Machado publicly threatened that, ‘if he [Maduro] wants to save his life, he should understand that his time is up’. A drone attack nearly assassinated President Maduro during a public ceremony the following month. Machado has now been named as a key connection in foiled assassination attempts on Maduro and PSUV governors intended to generate social unrest in 2023. Her campaign manager, Emil Brandt Ulloa, has been detained in connection with this plot.

Such a resumé would surely justify disqualification from political office. Yet what actually led to her ban was Machado being appointed as ‘alternate ambassador’ of Panama to the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 2014. In that capacity, Machado called for sanctions and OAS intervention against Caracas whilst still sitting as a deputy in Venezuela’s National Assembly. She also failed to disclose international funding for these activities. The 15-year disqualification for these offences was declared in 2021, and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court.

Regardless, in October, Machado’s Sumate organisation shunned the official national electoral commission (CNE) and ran its own controversial opposition primary ballot in which Machado reportedly won 90% of opposition votes. Rival candidate Jose Brito denounced irregularities but the paper ballots were destroyed. After Sumate failed to submit results for inspection, the Supreme Court nullified the vote. Disregarding the ruling, Machado proclaimed herself the sole opposition candidate, declaring ‘there can be no elections without me’. Parroting this line, the European Union has stated that it will not recognize the election unless Machado runs, whilst US Republican senator Mario Diaz-Balart introduced a resolution to the House brazenly designating Machado as Venezuela’s ‘official presidential opposition candidate’.

Meanwhile, the PSUV government and opposition representatives have been in negotiations to finalise plans for national elections. A national electoral agreement – the Barbados Agreement – was signed by 152 representatives from across the political spectrum. On the basis of this, the CNE, comprised of both opposition and government-aligned rectors, scheduled the vote for 28 July.

Far from uniting the opposition, Machado weakened it further. Her hardline stance in support of suffocating sanctions on the Venezuelan economy is opposed by the mass of the people, regardless of political affiliation. Her programme proposes mass privatisation and ‘popular capitalism’. Consequently, 12 opposition presidential candidates have registered, including ‘moderates’ who reject sanctions and foreign intervention, distancing themselves from Machado’s ‘unitary platform’. Meanwhile, the ruling PSUV has now registered incumbent President Nicolas Maduro. A last-ditch attempt by Machado to nominate as substitute an obscure 80-year-old academic failed; the PUD subsequently managed to finagle an extension to the registration deadline and another nonentity, former ambassador Edmundo Gonzalez, has now been nominated explicitly as a ‘placeholder’. This gives the PUD until 20 April to attempt to coalesce around a plausible ‘unity’ candidate.

The stage is set for more imperialist intervention against Venezuela. With US presidential elections also looming, Machado’s ban has already been used as an excuse for the Biden administration to reimpose sanctions against Venezuela, revoking licences on gold sales and refusing to renew sanctions waivers given to oil and gas companies. The message from the White House and its imperialist allies in Europe is clear: a vote for Maduro and the PSUV is a vote for more sanctions. Hands off Venezuela!

Sam McGill