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Venezuela's opposition backs unknown former diplomat in latest gambit to unseat Maduro


MIAMI (AP) — Venezuela's opposition is rallying behind an unknown former diplomat to challenge Nicolas Maduro in this summer's presidential election, the latest gambit to unseat the self-declared socialist, whose lock on power seems all but assured.

On Friday night, all 10 parties in the chief opposition coalition announced they would back Edmundo González to be their candidate on the July ballot. Within hours, a catchy campaign jingle set to salsa music started circulating on social media declaring “Todo el mundo con Edmundo” — “The entire world with Edmundo.”

The surprise show of unity adds to mounting international pressure on Maduro and his allies to allow Venezuelans a free and fair vote to decide who they want to lead the oil-rich South American nation for the next six years. Polls show that if given half a chance, Venezuelans would overwhelmingly vote to boot Maduro from office.

However, numerous obstacles remain to González' candidacy. Chief among them is a legal challenge, now with the Maduro-stacked Supreme Court, seeking to strike his party's ticket from the ballot altogether.

González is the third presidential candidate selected by the Democratic Unity Platform in the the past month after former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, who easily won an opposition primary last year, and her handpicked alternative were both banned from registering.

“We're advancing Venezuelans,” Machado said on X, formerly known as Twitter, following the announcement of González's candidacy.

Even among Venezuela's opposition, few have heard of the 74-year-old former diplomat. González began his professional career as an aide to Venezuela's ambassador in the U.S. and served as Caracas' ambassador to Algeria. His last post was as Venezuela's ambassador to Argentina during the first years of Hugo Chavez's presidency. More recently, he's worked as an international relations consultant, writing about recent political developments in Argentina as well as authoring a historical work on Venezuela's foreign minister during World War II.

“He's an accidental candidate,” said Luis Salamanca, a Venezuelan political analyst. “Legally, he's an optimal candidate, without a blemish, but not in the eyes of the regime, which has assigned itself a role of selecting candidacies to the point that it led the opposition to this situation.”

The opposition bloc was allowed to provisionally register González on March 26 after the government came under a wave of criticism when opposition leaders said they were blocked from registering their candidate of choice. Saturday was the deadline to make his placeholder candidacy final or replace him with another individual.

Maduro’s administration has cracked down on the opposition during the run-up to the July 28 presidential election despite promises to pave the way to fair elections in exchange for sanctions relief. The Biden administration on Wednesday re-imposed crushing oil sanctions, criticizing Maduro’s moves. The leftist leaders of Colombia and Brazil also have expressed concern.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil has called the criticism a “gross interference in matters that only concern Venezuelans.”

Maduro, a self-proclaimed socialist leader, officially launched his candidacy last month for a third term that would last until 2031.

The election is likely to have more than 10 candidates, but apart from the main opposition coalition, none are expected to pose a threat to Maduro’s power base.


Follow AP’s Latin America coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america