Henrique Capriles and María Corina Machado
Henrique Capriles and María Corina Machado AFP

Henrique Capriles became the most senior political figure in Venezuela to speak against opposition leader Maria Corina Machado's presidential candidacy, explaining in a local television interview that "an option" should be the priority as she has been banned from running in this year's presidential elections.

"It's not about having a plan B, I don't think that the correct choice of words is to talk about a substitute, I'd rather talk about options", said Capriles, adding that he doesn't believe "Maduro will lift his ban, regardless of the pressure."

The comments come at a critical time in the country's electoral calendar. On Monday, Venezuela's national electoral council confirmed that Machado's candidacy is disallowed because of the controversial ban against her, imposed by the country's controller general in 2023. Machado, who last year won a wide-ranging primary aimed at having a sole opposition candidate, has remained defiant. In an interview published on Forbes on Monday, Machado said that "the regime must negotiate with me", showing no signs of backing down from trying to sign up for the July 28 presidential elections.

Definitions are expected soon, however, as the deadline for candidate registration expires on March 25, leaving the opposition with less than two weeks to decide between going along with Machado's stronghold on the candidacy and fighting the Maduro-friendly courts, or choosing a different option, as Capriles has suggested.

Capriles is best known for representing the Venezuelan opposition in two presidential campaigns, losing to Hugo Chávez in 2012 and to Nicolas Maduro the following year. He is currently also banned from holding public office by the Maduro government, a measure that was imposed in 2017 and runs through 2032.

Both his and Machado's bans were upheld on January 30 by Venezuela's highest court. This action led led the U.S. to reinstate several sanctions on Venezuela which had been eased after The Barbados Agreement, a series of negotiations between the government and the opposition aimed at moving towards freer and fairer elections.

"It's not a secret that, as of today, Machado is the person who would defeat Maduro with most ease" said Capriles in the aforementioned interview. Nevertheless, he said, "political change should always prevail." "There has to be political will and unity", he added, in what wa a clear dig at Machado's aggressive rhetoric. Machado, on the other hand, took another hit on Sunday as Venezuela's attorney general announced the arrest of Emill Brandt Ulloa, one of her regional campaign leaders, for allegedly "taking part in violent demonstrations against the government."

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