The U.S. government is evaluating efforts by the Venezuelan government to keep opposition primary winner María Corina Machado from competing in next year’s presidential election, a move that could prompt Washington to reinstate the recently lifted sanctions against Caracas’ socialist regime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.
Blinken made the comments in Congress in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who expressed concern that strongman Nicolas Maduro in just a few days had scuttled the deal his regime had reached with the Venezuelan opposition earlier this month.
“It’s taken them two weeks now and they have violated that,” Rubio said during the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. “They canceled the opposition’s primary election and they continue to ban the winner of the primary. They basically wiped out the election. They’ve broken the deal. Are we going to reimpose sanctions?”
In answering, Blinken said the Biden administration is evaluating the latest steps by the regime, which include the announcement by the prosecutor’s office that it was investigating claims that organizers committed fraud in the primary vote, and a decision announced Monday by the regime-controlled Supreme Court suspending the election’s results.
On Oct. 22, Machado surpassed all expectations that she would easily win the primaries by garnering more than 92% of the votes.
“If the regime has, in fact, violated the agreement that it reached, then, of course, we’ll take the necessary action,” Blinken said in response to Rubio’s question. “We’ve been very clear about that. They’re not getting a free pass for actions they take that are in contradiction to the commitments that they’ve made to move toward free and fair elections.”
“We’re tracking that very carefully and happy to come back to you further as this moves along,” the secretary said while adding that the sanctions against the Maduro regime that were lifted can easily be reinstated if the administration determines that Caracas has failed to fulfill its promise.
Following the signing in Barbados of a deal between the opposition and the regime to implement a series of reforms that would lead to free and fair elections, the Biden administration announced it would grant a six-month general license temporarily authorizing U.S. transactions involving the oil and gas sector in Venezuela, and a second general license authorizing the operations of state-run Minerven, a previously sanctioned gold mining enterprise that had been trading in the black market.
In addition, the Biden administration lifted a trading ban on certain Venezuelan sovereign bonds and debt and equity belonging to the state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, PDVSA.
The deal announced was the culmination of a series of secret meetings held this year between representatives of the Biden administration and the Maduro regime, in which Caracas had agreed to allow the opposition to choose its own candidate for the presidential elections to be held in the second half of 2024.
But Machado’s participation in eventual elections was a major point of contention in those negotiations and almost prevented the parties from signing an agreement in Barbados.
Officials in Washington later told reporters that the administration understood that Maduro would allow Machado to run. However, the regime immediately attacked the opposition leader once the primaries demonstrated how popular she really is.