Maria Corina Machado, one of the favorites to win the Venezuelan opposition’s nomination for president in an October primary, has been barred from holding public office for 15 years, the country’s controller general said in a letter.
Machado, a 55-year-old industrial engineer and former lawmaker, is leading polling for the 13-candidate primary, convened to select a unity candidate to face socialist President Nicolas Maduro in a 2024 election.
A previous ban placed on her has been expanded because Machado supported sanctions by the United States on the Maduro government and backed former opposition leader Juan Guaido, the letter said.
The opposition has said for years that bans are used by the ruling party to prevent political change.
Machado, who has proposed privatizing state oil company PDVSA and restructuring Venezuela’s debt, told supporters on Thursday, “A ban by the regime is garbage, it means zero,” adding that it showed the Maduro government “is being defeated.”
The ban does not affect Machado’s ability to run in the primary because the opposition is holding it without state support. But it means she could not register with electoral authorities to appear on the ballot in the presidential race.
“Today’s decision to disqualify Maria Corina Machado from participating in the electoral process deprives the Venezuelan people of basic political rights. Venezuelans deserve the right to select a candidate to participate in presidential elections in 2024 without interference,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said in a statement.
Machado has been barred from leaving Venezuela for the last nine years and had been banned from office for 12 months in 2015 because, according to the controller, she did not include some benefits received when she was a lawmaker in her assets declaration. Machado says she never received the benefits.
Venezuelan lawmaker Jose Brito, who serves in the ruling party-controlled national assembly, asked the controller this week to clarify Machado’s status.