© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Who is Edmundo González, the Venezuelan opposition's new hope?

Former ambassador Edmundo Gonzalez, shown here this year at a Unitary Democratic Platform (PUD) gathering in Caracas, was chosen Friday night as the opposition coalition's new candidate for the July 28 presidential election
Former ambassador Edmundo Gonzalez, shown here this year at a Unitary Democratic Platform (PUD) gathering in Caracas, was chosen Friday night as the opposition coalition's new candidate for the July 28 presidential election.

Venezuela’s political opposition — demonstrating a surprising unity that seems to have caught the country's authoritarian regime off guard — has chosen a new candidate, former diplomat Edmundo González, to run against President Nicolás Maduro. Many Venezuelan exiles here in South Florida, who've been wary of the democratic negotiation process back in their patria, seem optimistic about González's chances of winning — if, that is, Maduro ultimately allows him to run.

Venezuela’s main, 10-party opposition coalition, the Unitary Democratic Platform, or PUD, tapped González Friday night to challenge Maduro in the July 28 presidential election.

González replaces María Corina Machado, who won last fall's opposition presidential primary in a landslide — but whose candidacy is being barred by the Maduro regime. The regime says it's because of corruption charges against, but regime critics call that bogus and insist instead that Maduro is frightened my Machado's broad popularity.

González is a 74-year-old former ambassador who’s been a behind-the-scenes director of the opposition coalition in recent years. A native of Venezuela's Aragua state, just west of the capital Caracas, he holds a master's degree in international relations from American University in Washington, D.C., and was once affiliated with the right-of-center Christian Democratic party known as Copei.

Though a relative unknown inside and outside Venezuela until this past weekend, several polls show González already has an ample lead of as many as 20 points over Maduro, thanks largely to both Machado's backing and the severe humanitarian crisis Venezuelans are suffering — the worst in modern South American history.

READ MORE: More Venezuelans to leave country after July elections, predicts South Florida exile activist

Most Venezuelans blame Maduro and his socialist Chavista government for the economic catastrophe and their country's often brutal political repression, which in recent years has drawn accusations of crimes against humanity from the U.N. Maduro's recent approval ratings, in fact, have barely risen above 20%; and in one recent survey, 40% said they'd join the millions of Venezuelans who have already left the country — more than a fifth of the population in the past decade — if Maduro wins a third six-year term this summer.

Maduro's re-election in 2018 was widely viewed, both at home and abroad, as fraudulent. Last week the Biden Administration re-applied heavy U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's vital oil industry, because the regime, which last fall had agreed to hold a free and fair presidential election this year, instead refuses to let Machado run and has in recent month cracked down harshly on opposition leaders, arresting, jailing and exiling several.

Now, however, the regime seems uncertain how to respond.

As a result, many Venezuelan exile leaders in South Florida feel the PUD's move last week to make González its coalition standard-bearer after the regime allowed him to provisionally register his candidacy on March 26 was smart. Too often during the Chavistas' quarter-century-long rule, say many Venezuela experts, the opposition has simply opted to boycott elections in protest, to its detriment and to the benefit of the regime, because boycotts tend to draw international scrutiny away from the regime's abuses.

'A consensus-builder'

"This feels like a case of serendipity," said Miami business consultant and Venezuelan expat Beatrice Rangel, who was chief of staff to the late Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez in the 1990s and attended university with González in Caracas.

"It seems Machado and the opposition are playing the cards rather masterfully this time,"

Rangel, who also worked with him closely in government, said he has the right temperament to confront the Maduro regime.

“He’s a very level-headed person — a consensus-builder and incredibly patient," she said.

"So the madness of the regime — the insults and smears and lies they're going to throw at him — is not going to move him from his goal. It’s going to be his best weapon.”

Though González is a diplomat, Rangel also believes he has enough common touch to challenge the socialist Maduro.

“Edmundo grew up in a small Venezuelan town" before moving to Caracas as a teenager, Rangel said. "He’s easy-going — always has a smile, always has a joke.

”There's no social distancing with Edmundo. He respects human dignity; he's never engaged in the kind of predatory practices Venezuelans have come to associate with their regime.

"Venezuelans want to be free now, and he'll be able to relate to them and convince them he can fix this awful situation their lives are in."

It remains to be seen, however, if the regime will accept González's PUD candidacy or find a way to nullify him as well — as it did earlier with Machado's first choice of a substitute candidate, professor Corina Yoris, who was not allowed to access the government's registration process.

Still, even countries Venezuela considers allies in Latin America, such as Brazil, have indicated Maduro risks becoming an international pariah if he takes the same tack fellow leftist authoritarian Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, followed three years ago by imprisoning or disqualifying virtually every candidate who sought to run against him.

READ MORE: YouTuber's 'terrorism' arrest raises a 'red flag' about visiting Venezuela

Meanwhile, Maduro’s government is making it much harder for millions of Venezuelans living in South Florida and elsewhere around the world to register to vote in the July election.

Among the common complaints: the regime has created a labyrinth of new bureaucratic red tape for voter registration abroad; it is requiring more expensive steps of Venezuelan migrants, such as passport renewals costing hundreds of dollars; or the regime is keeping consulates abroad closed or operating with irregular hours to prevent exile voters — who are almost all anti-regime — from signing up.

In fact, because the regime has closed its consulates in the U.S. in retaliation for Washington’s refusal to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president after the 2018 controversy, Venezuelans in the U.S. may end up not being able to vote in July.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
More On This Topic