Venezuelan activist Maria Corina Machado, a former lawmaker who helped lead mass protests that paralyzed Caracas in the spring, will likely be indicted Wednesday on charges of plotting to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro. Machado and her supporters have denounced the charges as politically motivated, and some U.S. lawmakers have seized on the case to push for expanding sanctions against Venezuela.
Machado and three others were summoned last week to appear before a judge over a series of emails that purportedly reveal the assassination plot against the president. Venezuelan officials released the emails in May, following several months of turbulent mass demonstrations in the capital and the western city of San Cristobal. But a cybersecurity forensics expert hired by Pedro Burelli, former director of state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., who was also accused of participating in the conspiracy, said the emails were faked, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Venezuela is still reeling from the spring protests, which stemmed from widespread discontent over high crime rates and economic policies and resulted in more than 40 deaths. Machado herself was expelled from the National Assembly in March due to her participation in the movement. Leopoldo López, a former mayor who became one of the protest movement’s most visible figureheads alongside Machado, turned himself into authorities at the height of the demonstrations. He is currently undergoing trial on charges of inciting violence during the protests.
Machado’s indictment will likely add additional fodder for some U.S. lawmakers’ push for more sanctions on Venezuela over its handling of this year’s protests. Following the midterm elections, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reiterated his intent to revive a stalled sanctions bill in the Senate that he sponsored.
In the days leading up to Machado’s summons, several U.S. lawmakers who support the sanctions bill have spoken out against the Maduro administration. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., issued a statement Wednesday on Machado’s hearing, calling it “another attempt to silence leaders that defend the state of rights, democracy and respect for human rights for all Venezuelans,” and called for the U.S. to expand sanctions against Maduro’s government.
â€” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) December 2, 2014
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fl., also tweeted his support for Machado, calling the charges “unfounded.”
As @MariaCorinaYA faces unfounded charges, I stand in solidarity with her. Fighting for freedom and democracy is an honor, not a crime.
â€” Mario Diaz-Balart (@MarioDB) December 1, 2014
Last week, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said White House would consider imposing additional sanctions on Venezuela. Blinken said the administration hadn’t moved on the issue in recent months in an effort to let Latin American diplomats negotiate the release of jailed opposition leaders, but those attempts haven’t been successful.
Meanwhile, a flailing economy and slumping oil prices have continued to sour public sentiment toward Venezuela’s government. According to figures released by polling firm Datanálisis Tuesday, Maduro’s approval rating hit a new low of 24.5 percent in November, with 85.7 percent of respondents saying the country is headed in the wrong direction.