Accessibility links

Breaking News

Venezuela's opposition candidate for president pledges 'dignified future for all'

Venezuelan presidential candidate Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia, center, and opposition leader Mariana Corina Machado, second right, attend the launch of his campaign for the upcoming election in La Victoria, Venezuela, May 18, 2024.
Venezuelan presidential candidate Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia, center, and opposition leader Mariana Corina Machado, second right, attend the launch of his campaign for the upcoming election in La Victoria, Venezuela, May 18, 2024.

The presidential candidate of Venezuela's chief opposition coalition sought Saturday to cultivate a mood of hope and possibility in a massive rally that marked the start of a campaign he admittedly never imagined leading.

Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia, the former diplomat chosen by the coalition to replace the fiery leader Maria Corina Machado on the ballot, drew thousands of supporters to the streets of La Victoria, his hometown.

He urged them to imagine a country where public services are not a luxury, people are not imprisoned for their political beliefs, and millions will return after having migrated throughout a decade in search of better economic opportunities.

"I guarantee a peaceful alternation in which all political forces will be able to exercise their rights within the framework of the constitution," Gonzalez said, addressing an audience of retirees, young adults and residents of the capital.

"I want to call on all Venezuelans to join me in a peaceful and orderly change of government. We will move from division to unity, from abuse by a few to the rule of law for all, and from this undignified present to a dignified future for all."

Gonzalez was joined on stage by Machado, whose candidacy for the July 28 election was barred by the government of President Nicolas Maduro. The crowd cheered for both under sweltering temperatures. Street vendors sold T-shirts and baseball caps promoting the duo for $10.

Gonzalez is the third candidate that the Unitary Platform opposition coalition has promoted as its own this year.

Machado, a former lawmaker, entered 2024 as the group's candidate after winning an October presidential primary, but a top court loyal to Venezuela's ruling party affirmed in January an administrative decision to ban her from office. She appointed a substitute in March — former academic Corina Yoris — but she, too, was barred from the ballot. Four days later, the coalition picked Gonzalez.

La Victoria resident Maria Contreras, 75, arrived 4 1/2 hours early to the street where Saturday's rally was to take place. She waved at acquaintances as they arrived to catch a glimpse of Machado and Gonzalez, whose mother was Contreras' fourth-grade teacher.

"We will achieve it! I have faith in God, and I ask him for this, on my knees, every day so that my grandchildren and children can return," Contreras, a retired secretary, said. "I came here alone and on an empty stomach. It's horrible what happened to this community."

Contreras said she cleans homes in exchange for food. Her $3-a-month pension does not allow her to buy even a kilogram of cheese or a 1-liter bottle of cooking oil.

La Victoria was once home to an auto assembly plant, a glass making company and other industrial facilities. But those shut down, and the community's streets are lined with boarded-up businesses.

'One step forward'

Gonzalez 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' ambassador to Algeria.

His last post was as ambassador to Argentina during the first years of the presidency of Hugo Chavez, who came to power in 1999. Chavez transformed Venezuela with socialist policies like nationalizing industries and launching welfare programs. Chavez handpicked Maduro to replace him before dying of cancer in 2013.

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

Surrounded by Machado, his wife, sister-in-law and a daughter, Gonzalez told the crowd that he "never" aspired to run for public office, but that he agreed to become the Unitary Platform's candidate to move Venezuela "one step forward."

"Let's imagine for a moment the country that is coming," he told the audience with a bit more energy than his usual subdued tone characteristic of a diplomat. "A country in which the president does not insult or see his adversaries as enemies. A country where when you get home from work you know that your money has value, that when you turn on the switch there will be electricity, that when you turn on the faucet there will be water."

But it did not match the energy of a seasoned politician like Machado, who practically crowd-surfed to reach the stage Saturday.

Maduro seeks third term

President Maduro is seeking a third term in July. His presidency has been marked by a crisis that pushed millions of people into poverty, while more than 7.7 million others migrated.

Many of those gathered Saturday in La Victoria loudly rejected the president, whose party again held a rally on the same day and community as the opposition coalition.

"I don't want a bag!" some chanted referring to a bag of food the government hands out to people. "What I want is for Nicolas to leave!"