Maduro intensifies repression against Maria Corina Machado's team ahead of the 2024 presidential elections

Opposition activist Maria Corina Machado (C) speaks during a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela

Opposition activist Maria Corina Machado speaks during a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela.

© picture alliance / EPA | Ryaner Pena R.

The Venezuelan regime, led by Nicolás Maduro, is ratcheting up intimidation tactics as the 2024 presidential elections approach. In early December, arrest warrants were issued for opposition activists, including close associates of opposition leader Maria Corina Machado. Members of the European Parliament strongly condemn the regime's latest action.

Maduro's socialist dictatorship in Venezuela is under mounting political pressure. In October 2023, liberal politician Maria Corina Machado secured an overwhelming 92% victory in the opposition primaries. As part of the Barbados Agreement, Maduro committed to organising free and fair presidential elections in the second half of 2024. In exchange, he received partial relief from the United States on the oil sanctions imposed on his regime.[1]

The regime is pursuing a course of confrontation in domestic and foreign policy

On December 6, 2023, the Venezuelan Attorney General's Office issued arrest warrants for 14 opposition members, marking a significant escalation in the government's crackdown on dissidents. Four individuals, in particular, are prime targets as the regime aims to dismantle the inner circle of opposition leader Maria Corina Machado from the Vente Venezuela (VV) party. Among those to be detained are Pedro Alejandro Urruchurtu Noselli, VV's international relations coordinator; Henry Alviarez Alviarez, VV's national coordinator; and Claudia Nebraska Macero González, the liberal party's national communications coordinator and journalist.

Moreover, Roberto Abdul, President of the NGO Súmate, where Maria Corina Machado began her activism for the civil rights of Venezuelans, has been in the custody of the Venezuelan Secret Service since 6 December.[2] Maria Eugenia Abad, wife of detained activist Roberto Abdul, reported his "forced disappearance" and human rights violations following his arrest. The NGO Súmate, in collaboration with lawyers from the NGO Penal Forum, submitted a complaint addressing these infractions, which notably include the right to a defence. The Penal Forum characterised the arrest of Abdul, a National Primary Election Committee member, as arbitrary. A video released by the organisations underscored Abdul's "forced disappearance," emphasising the denial of contact with family and trusted lawyers.[3]

The charges against the opposition members include treason, conspiracy, money laundering, and criminal association. The regime accuses parts of the opposition of conspiring with the oil company ExxonMobil to support a boycott of the referendum on the future of the Essequibo region in Guyana, which took place in Venezuela on December 3.

Additional arrest warrants have been issued for individuals who have long been targets of Chavism in various conspiracies. This includes prominent figures in exile from the Voluntad Popular party, such as Leopoldo López and Juan Guaidó, and the Primero Justicia party, such as Julio Borges. These parties have previously faced persecution, imprisonment, and forced exile.[4] With the arrest warrants, the Maduro regime aims to prevent their return to Venezuela for the upcoming presidential election campaign. Overall, the worrying developments represent a further erosion of political freedoms and increased repression by the regime in Venezuela of dissenting opinions.

Condemnations of the Maduro regime's recent crackdown on the opposition

The Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament strongly condemned the Maduro regime's recent crackdown on the opposition in Venezuela. Renew Europe MEP Dita Charanzová (ANO, Czech Republic), Vice-President of the European Parliament for Relations with Latin America, warned:

"The Maduro regime continues to violate the human rights and freedoms of the Venezuelan people by persecuting political leaders and NGOs. The EU must stand firmly by the Venezuelan opposition and support them in their fight for a better and democratic future. This can only be achieved through free and fair elections."

Jordi Cañas (Ciudadanos, Spain), MEP and First Vice-President of the EUROLAT Parliamentary Assembly and Coordinator of the Renew Europe Group at EUROLAT, assures:

María Corina and her fellow campaigners can count on the unconditional support of the European Parliament to ensure that democracy returns to Venezuela in 2024.[5]



The Essequibo region conflict

Initially of marginal concern to Venezuela, the region gained significance with the discovery of substantial oil reserves off Guyana's coast in 2015.

The current borders of Guyana were determined in 1899 by an arbitration award of a Paris tribunal, which acted at the request of the USA and Great Britain. On the other hand, Venezuela refers to a 1966 agreement with Great Britain, which was concluded shortly before the independence of the then colony of British Guiana. This agreement foresaw a negotiated solution. The UN tried to reach an agreement before Guyana's independence in 1966, but this attempt failed.[6]

Maduro's recent militarisation, his promise of operating licences for oil, gas and mining companies and his demand to suspend Guyana's oil licences (including to ExxonMobil) have exacerbated the dispute.

International Reactions

The Organization of American States (OAS) condemned Maduro's regime for its "illegal and illegitimate" actions, including the controversial December 3 referendum seeking to annex the Essequibo region.[7] The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, emphasised the risk of destabilising the region and called for a peaceful, diplomatic solution aligned with international law.[8]

On December 14, a meeting between the Venezuelan and Guyanese presidents aimed to de-escalate tensions, but substantive resolution proved elusive. The encounter involved regional bodies and Brazil, with Guyana expressing confidence in the UN International Court of Justice, while Venezuela rejected its jurisdiction. Both nations committed to avoiding further escalation, establishing a joint commission for potential solutions. Guyana's President Ali emphasised defending national rights and urged Venezuela to de-escalate.[9]

Elections are at stake

In the lead-up to the elections, the Essequibo conflict looms large as a pivotal factor shaping Venezuela's political landscape. During a hearing of the European Parliament subcommittee overseeing relations with Mercosur countries, Maria Corina Machado warned that "Chavism" was straying from the democratic path. She expressed deep concern that, to divert attention, the regime might dangerously pivot towards a territorial conflict. The elevated risk lies in the regime exploiting the escalating conflict to justify a "state of emergency," potentially leading to suspending the 2024 presidential elections.

A critical concern revolves around the process of enabling Machado's participation. In line with the Barbados agreement, Maduro’s regime outlined a procedure to overturn the existing ban on Maria Corina Machado and other opposition members participating in the upcoming elections. However, this pathway involved an appeal before the Supreme Court, which was due on Friday, 15 December.

Some analysts interpreted the procedure as a "poisoned chalice" since initiating an appeal involves recognising the validity of the underlying cause.[10] For this reason, in an unforeseen move, Machado appeared in front of the Supreme Court on the due date to file a claim to ratify the non-existence of her disqualification and pursue a protective injunction for her political rights. Although she did not file an appeal, she is confident these legal actions will clear the way for her participation in the upcoming elections. 

The international community plays a key role

Maduro's regime is stepping up its intimidation tactics. Machado not only has to deal with the direct harassment of the Maduro regime but also with arrest warrants against close allies. She emphasised the severity of recent events, explicitly mentioning the arrest of Abdul and the targeting of key members of her team. Despite these daunting challenges, Machado's determination remains unshaken: "The regime's attacks only strengthen our resolve to confront the regime and defeat it at the ballot box."[11]

As Venezuela finds itself at a pivotal crossroads, it becomes imperative for the global community to unite in a concerted effort. The restoration of democracy in Venezuela teeters on the edge, and the stakes are exceptionally high. The gravity of the situation underscores the crucial need for collective action and decisive support from the international community.

Niome Hüneke-Brown is project director of the Andean Countries Project Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Lima, Peru.

[5] Für Venezuela war die Region zunächst nur von untergeordneter Bedeutung, doch mit der Entdeckung umfangreicher Ölvorkommen vor der Küste Guyanas im Jahr 2015 gewann sie an Bedeutung.after-the-jailing-of-new-members-of-the-opposition
[6] ;