US Reviews Venezuela Sanctions as Machado Blocked From Vote

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(Bloomberg) -- The US government condemned a Venezuelan court ruling that blocked the leading opposition candidate from running for the presidency in elections this year, adding that it’s reviewing its sanctions policy on the Latin American nation.

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The decision to disqualify Maria Corina Machado “is inconsistent with the commitment by Nicolas Maduro’s representatives to hold a competitive Venezuelan presidential election in 2024,” Statement Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Venezuela Court Blocks Opposition Leader’s Presidential Run

The Jan. 26 ruling puts the Biden administration in the awkward position of deciding whether to reinstate sanctions on exports of oil, gas and gold it had suspended to support free and fair elections. It follows the arrest of three Machado aides for their alleged involvement in what the government said was a plot to kill Maduro.

The State Department said Friday’s court process “lacked basic elements, as Machado neither received a copy of the allegations against her nor was afforded the opportunity to respond to those allegations.” As a result of recent events, “the United States is currently reviewing our Venezuela sanctions policy.”

Gerardo Blyde, the chief negotiator for the opposition, also blasted the court ruling, saying it violated the so-called Barbados deal between the US and Venezuela, and accused the government of trying to “spread terror.” He denied any opposition involvement in the alleged plot to assassinate Maduro.

“We don’t support any violent act,” Blyde said in a press conference in Caracas. “Our only goal is to achieve free elections.”

Government Response

Government spokesman Hector Rodriguez rejected the criticism, said the court decision will stand and that the Barbados accord never mentioned a specific candidate. Those who have violated the constitution would be banned from the election, he said, adding that talks would continue.

“We are still open to dialog,” Rodriguez said. “There will be elections under international observation and audits, all candidates complying to Venezuelan laws will be able to participate.”

The court said on Friday it was ratifying a 2021 decision by the Comptroller’s Office that barred Machado, who’s been leading opinion polls for the election, from running for public office for 15 years.

“Maduro and his criminal system decided to take the worst path for them: that of a fraudulent election,” Machado wrote in a statement posted on social media, promising to keep fighting for free elections. “Let there be no doubt, we’re going until the end.”

While Machado said the court’s decision effectively killed the Barbados deal, Maduro’s chief negotiator Jorge Rodriguez said the government has complied with the mechanism established in the agreement, and will carry out elections this year as promised.

Despite Venezuela’s moves, bond investors have mostly held onto their bets that the sanctions will remain suspended. Government notes due in 2027 were quoted late Friday at 21.4 cents, according to indicative pricing compiled by Bloomberg, 2 cents lower than their high earlier this month but still far above the 10-cent range where they traded before the Barbados agreement.

--With assistance from Patricia Laya and Nicolle Yapur.

(Updates with comments from government spokesman starting in the seventh paragraph)

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