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Venezuela primary favorite Machado carries on campaigning despite ban

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© FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado speaks to in Caracas, Venezuela January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Gaby Oraa/File Photo

By Tibisay Romero and Mircely Guanipa

VALENCIA/MARACAY, Venezuela () – Venezuelan opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado, the front-runner in a primary set for Sunday, has traveled the crisis-hit country in her signature jeans, white t-shirt and sneakers with her slogan “until the end”, despite a ban on her holding office.

Leading her rivals by some 40 points in polls, Machado has continued campaigning even after the controller general in June barred her from public office because of her support of U.S. sanctions on the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The opposition says the bans are unlawful and the U.S. government has conveyed to Maduro bans must be lifted for all opposition presidential candidates by the end of November in exchange for sanctions relief, a U.S. senior official said on Wednesday.

Two of Machado’s primary rivals have dropped out because of their own disqualifications.

Her goal is to remove Maduro from power via peaceful, fair and competitive elections, she says.

“This is my purpose,” Machado, 56, said during a recent interview in the central city of Valencia. “Everything we are doing is for this, because in the end Venezuela must profoundly change.”

It is unclear what would happen if Machado were to win the primary and be unable to register for the general election because of her disqualification.

Machado has said she could pressure the electoral council to let her register, while others have argued a succession mechanism would be necessary.

She has been reticent to discuss a back-up plan, political sources said, and whether the often-fractious opposition would accept Machado choosing a replacement remains to be seen.

Some in the opposition had hoped an election deal signed this week between the opposition and the government would include the lifting of the bans, but it did not.

The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday said it is prepared to reverse an easing of oil sanctions if Maduro’s government does not take steps like lifting the bans and freeing prisoners the opposition says are wrongfully detained.

Machado, a mother of three and industrial engineer, is the daughter of a well-known businessman who worked for steel giant Sivensa, which was nationalized in 2010 by late president Hugo Chavez.

She has said she plans to privatize state-owned oil company PDVSA and the Sidor steel company if she wins the election next year, as well as restructure public debt and seek financing from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Her harsh criticisms of Maduro have led some in the ruling party to say Machado is right-wing and scorns the working class.

Machado says she is a liberal who opposes discrimination and that she would put in place a broad social assistance plan for the neediest Venezuelans. The country’s economic crisis has led some 7.7 million people to migrate.

“Maria Corina’s message is clear, until the end. We want a country of progress, of growth, a country where we have money in our pockets,” said Celso Garcia, a street food seller attending a Machado rally in Maracay.

He said he wanted his 17-year-old daughter to have a future “so she doesn’t have to leave like so many.”

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