US reimposes some sanctions after Venezuela bans presidential hopeful

Venezuela’s Supreme Court upheld a 15-year ban on opposition leader Maria Corina Machado holding public office.

The United States has begun reimposing sanctions on Venezuela by restricting its mining sector after the South American nation’s top court upheld the disqualification of an opposition presidential hopeful.

Any US companies doing business with Venezuela’s state-owned mining concern Minerven have until February 13 to complete a “wind down of transactions” with the company, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said on Monday,

The US warned Venezuela at the weekend that it could end some sanctions relief granted last year when Caracas agreed to a deal for elections in 2024, including setting up a process for would-be candidates to challenge their disqualification.

On Friday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court, loyal to President Nicolas Maduro’s government, upheld a 15-year ban on opposition leader Maria Corina Machado and also confirmed the ineligibility of her possible replacement, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

Machado on Monday called the court ruling blocking her presidential candidacy last week “judicial criminality” and vowed to stay in the race, declaring that the decision embodies the ruling party’s fear of having to face her at the polls.

Sanctions relief

Maduro’s government had raised hopes with Washington and others when it reached a deal last year in Barbados with the Venezuelan opposition to hold a free and fair vote in 2024, with international observers present.

That agreement saw Washington ease sanctions, allowing US-based Chevron to resume limited oil extraction and leading the way to a prisoner swap.

On Monday, White House spokesperson John Kirby said members of the Maduro government “have not taken those actions” promised in Barbados.

“So we have options available to us,” he said. “We certainly have options with respect to sanctions and that kind of thing.”

Jorge Rodriguez, a lawmaker who heads Maduro’s team in negotiations with the opposition, said prior to the US Treasury decision that if Washington took “any aggressive action”, Venezuela’s response would be “serene, reciprocal and energetic”.

Machado, a 56-year-old former lawmaker, won the opposition’s independently-run presidential primary with more than 90 percent of the votes in October.

Her victory came despite the government announcing a 15-year ban on her running for office just days after she formally entered the race in June.

The longtime government foe was able to participate because the primary was organised by a commission independent of Venezuela’s electoral authorities. Machado insisted throughout the campaign that she never received official notification of the ban.

In December, Machado filed a claim with the court arguing the ban was null and void and seeking an injunction to protect her political rights.

Instead, the court upheld the ban, claiming fraud and tax violations and accused her of seeking the economic sanctions the US imposed on Venezuela in the last decade.

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