Venezuela opposition candidate names substitute following campaign ban, arrests

Venezuelan opposition powerhouse Maria Corina Machado on Friday named a substitute to her presidential bid while she fights a government ban on her running for office.

The announcement came after Machado faced increasing political repression from the government of President Nicolas Maduro as well as pressure from foreign leaders and fellow government opponents to abandon her candidacy.

Machado made the announcement two days after authorities arrested two of her campaign staffers and issued warrants for seven more, accusing them of links to an alleged anti-government plot.

She told reporters that college professor Corina Yoris will be registered as her opposition faction’s presidential candidate ahead of a Monday deadline. The presidential election is set for July 28.

“Today is a great day and we have taken a big step, a great step, for the electoral victory in which we will defeat Nicolas Maduro,” Machado said from her campaign headquarters in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. She said Yoris is “a person with my full confidence, honourable, who will carry out this process with the support and trust of everyone.”

Two people embrace in front of a microphone as people gather behind.
Machado embraces Corina Yoris at a news conference in Caracas on Friday. (Gaby Oraa/Reuters)

As of the announcement, Yoris was not subject to a ban on running for office, Machado said.

Machado, a former lawmaker, overwhelmingly won an October primary election organized by an opposition faction. But the governing party-loyal Supreme Tribunal of Justice in January affirmed a ban on her running for office, and fellow government critics pressed her to stand down to get behind an alternate candidate.

The primary of the United States-backed Unitary Platform coalition was organized by an independent commission without any assistance from Venezuela’s electoral authorities. Machado is not part of the coalition, but she was allowed to run as an independent.

Machado said Yoris will be registered as the candidate of both the Democratic Unity Table and A New Time parties.

A person shakes hands with supporters during a political rally.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is greeted by supporters at a political rally in Caracas on Wednesday. (Miraflores Palace/Reuters)

Maduro’s government moved to block Machado’s candidacy from the start, announcing she was barred from running for office only a few days after she officially entered the primary race in June. After she won the primary, authorities issued arrest warrants for three of her staffers in connection to an alleged plot to sabotage a referendum the government held in December over a territorial dispute with Guyana.

Authorities did not arrest the staffers, but they took into custody Roberto Abdul, a longtime collaborator of Machado with whom she co-founded a pro-democracy group more than two decades ago.

She filed paperwork with the country’s top court in December alleging in part that her ban from office was null and void because she was never officially notified of the administrative decision. The following month, without ever holding a single hearing, the court reaffirmed the ban.

Authorities have continued to link her staffers to anti-government plots. After Wednesday’s arrests, at least six of Machado staffers are in custody over their alleged participation in the conspiracies the government claims to have foiled.

Standing next to Machado, Yoris said she felt “not only proud, but tremendously committed to the people, to the citizens, to Maria Corina.”

“So, thank you very much, especially for the trust that I see has been placed not only in me, but in the words and actions of Maria Corina,” Yoris said. “We will continue fighting for her to achieve her authorization” to run in the election.

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