On Wednesday, former Venezuelan congresswoman María Corina Machado was named as an official suspect in an alleged murder plot against President Nicolás Maduro.
Accompanied by her closest aides, the opposition leader took a bus especially rented for the occasion to Prosecutor General Katherine Harrigton’s office at 9am, where supporters welcomed her as she arrived. The meeting began at 10am and ended at 1pm local time. Machado was not taken into custody.
The former congresswoman has testified in this case before, just after the lawsuit was announced during a meeting of the government’s political high command in May. Jorge Rodríguez, the group’s spokesman and governor of Libertador, read several messages sent from an email account that supposedly proved Machado had ties to an alleged plot to assassinate the Venezuelan president. The opposition leader admitted that the account in question was hers but said she stopped using it after some personal photographs were published on social media platforms without her consent. Later, Google, at the request of attorney Pedro Mario Burelli, confirmed that the emails shown were fakes.
By naming Machado an official suspect, the government is closing in around opposition members who called on Maduro to step down
Machado’s lawyer, Tomás Arias, had a chance to review the file and discovered the criteria the Prosecutor General’s Office was using to decide the charges. “The entire reasoning rests on a political foundation,” he told EL PAÍS, though did not go into details. His viewpoint is in line with that of Machado and he said the accusations against her are reprisals for her stance against the Venezuelan government.
By naming Machado as an official suspect, the government is closing in around opposition members who called for Maduro to step down. After that announcement, skirmishes erupted in Caracas and other large cities, leading to 43 deaths. Hundreds of people were injured or in prison by June. The other leader of the group, former Chacao mayor Leopoldo López has been held in a military prison since February on four charges related to a march in downtown Caracas that led to an escalation in the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Machado has paid the price for her decision to join these protests. She lost her congressional seat after National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello accused her of accepting Panama’s offer to cede the floor to her at a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). A court order issued in June blocks her from leaving the country during the investigation thereby limiting her international lobbying efforts to condemn the Venezuelan government as a dictatorship that denies the human rights of opposition members.
Still, Machado could say she has been lucky. On the eve of the meeting with Harrigton, her team feared she would suffer the same fate as López. They began a campaign on social media using the hashtag #yoestoyconmariacorina (#iamwithmariacorina), which became a trending topic in Venezuela. Her organization, Vente Venezuela, also published a note on its website that served as a reminder of all the lawsuits and personal attacks she has suffered since she emerged as an opposition leader to the Bolivarian Revolution. Her supporters stood in solidarity with her over her presumed imminent imprisonment. On Tuesday, a group of intellectuals published a statement condemning the judicial proceeedings. And Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino said accusing Machado of conspiring to assassinate the president was an exaggeration. “The evidence they are using is totally weak,” he said.
The only one who seemed optimistic was Machado herself. Just before heading in to the meeting, she gave an interview to presenter César Miguel Rondón’s popular radio show. “I am not going to give in; I am going to face this disgrace,” she said. For now, she has escaped prison. The Prosecutor General’s Office will continue its investigation and it may take months to decide whether to indict her or close the case.
Translation: Dyane Jean François