Barred Candidate Campaigns for Replacement in Venezuela

Barred Candidate Campaigns for Replacement in Venezuela

At a bustling intersection, rally goers shout and illuminate their cellphones in the evening as Venezuelan opposition figure María Corina Machado climbs onto a flatbed truck like a presidential candidate.

Although barred from the July 28 election, she continues to traverse the country, greeting supporters, taking selfies, blowing kisses, and vowing to defeat President Nicolás Maduro — all as a surrogate for Edmundo González Urrutia, a reserved former diplomat who has yet to start his campaign.

“María Corina! María Corina!” The crowd chants in unison in the small Andean foothill town of Sabana de Mendoza. The cheers are deafening.

Machado’s challenge is to convert her popularity and charisma into votes for González, who was selected by the main opposition coalition after she was disqualified from running.

“I don’t remember what his name is,” seamstress Danis Cegarra, 48, said of González while waiting with her two children for Machado. “Even though we don’t know much about him, we are going to support him. Well, I am going to support him because I want change, especially because I have children.”

González is the third candidate promoted by the Unitary Platform opposition coalition this year.

Machado, a former lawmaker, began 2024 as the coalition’s candidate after easily winning an October presidential primary. However, a top court loyal to Venezuela’s ruling party upheld an administrative decision to ban her from office. She appointed a substitute in March, former academic Corina Yoris, who was also barred. Four days later, the coalition selected González.

Machado, a proponent of free-market policies who has been campaigning for over a year, is now introduced as the “opposition leader” at her rallies instead of a candidate. González, 74, has not yet appeared at rallies with Machado. He will officially launch his campaign on Saturday, though he gave a brief address to supporters on Thursday with the characteristic reserved tone of a diplomat.

“He seems to be a very quiet, consensus-based diplomat. María Corina is out there on the stump fire breathing,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Her job is to bring out people to vote for Edmundo, but it will be interesting to see what he’s like if he ever goes out there because it’s going to be quite a character mismatch to see him next to her.”

González began his career as an aide to Venezuela’s ambassador in the U.S. in the late 1970s. He had postings in Belgium and El Salvador and served as Caracas’s ambassador to Algeria.

His last position was as ambassador to Argentina during the early years of Hugo Chávez’s presidency. Chávez, who came to power in 1999 and transformed Venezuela with socialist policies like nationalizing industries and launching welfare programs, handpicked Maduro to succeed him before dying of cancer in 2013.

More recently, González worked as an international relations consultant and authored a historical work on Venezuela during World War II.