The move is a crippling blow to a deal in which President Nicolás Maduro’s administration promised a free and fair election in exchange for relief from U.S. sanctions.
Venezuela’s highest court ruled on Friday that a top opposition leader cannot run for president, dealing a crippling blow to prospects for credible elections that the government had agreed to hold this year in exchange for the lifting of crippling U.S. economic sanctions.
The court’s decision bars the opposition figure, María Corina Machado, from taking part in an election for 15 years, upholding the Venezuelan government’s decision to exclude Ms. Machado over what it claimed were financial irregularities that occurred when she was a national legislator.
The move comes after Ms. Machado overwhelmingly won an opposition primary election for president that was held in October without official government support and in which more than 2.4 million Venezuelans voted. Analysts say Ms. Machado poses the biggest electoral threat to President Nicolás Maduro.
In a post on the social media platform X, Ms. Machado said on Friday that Mr. Maduro and “his criminal system chose the worst path for them: fraudulent elections.” She added, “What is NOT ending is our fight to conquer democracy through free and fair elections.”
The Biden administration has tried to coax Venezuela’s authoritarian government into holding elections by relaxing some of the sanctions that have decimated the country’s oil industry, a vital source of income.
In October, the Maduro government reached an agreement with the opposition on steps toward a presidential vote, including allowing opponents to choose a candidate to run in elections that are supposed to be held this year, though a date has yet to be set.