Venezuela accuses opposition leader Machado of plotting to kill the president

Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado gives a speech during a rally in support of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in Caracas on June 8, 2014 . Lopez, detained for more than three months ago, will be tried for inciting violence during protests in Venezuela last February. AFP PHOTO/ LEO RAMIREZ        (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado was indicted Wednesday on charges that she conspired in a plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro, but she won’t be jailed — at least for now.

Machado, a former Venezuelan lawmaker who played a strong leadership role in the street protests against Maduro’s government earlier this year, was allowed to leave the prosecutor’s office after being formally charged. She is prohibited from leaving the country while she awaits trial. No trial date has been set. If found guilty, she could face up to 18 years in jail.

“If they believe that with brutal persecution they will postpone the transition to democracy in peace, they are wrong,” she said on Twitter. “On the contrary, they accelerate it.”

Machado was initially charged with threatening to kill the president. But the charge was later reduced to “conspiracy” as state prosecutors alleged she took part in a plot to assassinate Maduro. Machado has dismissed the accusations as politically motivated and aimed at silencing a well-known government critic.

The government’s case against Machado isn’t new. Machado’s lawyers have compiled a list of charges that have been filed against her in recent years.

Tension gripped a crowd of her supporters gathered outside the prosecutor’s office as National Guard troops stood by.

After her indictment, Machado spoke outside the prosecutor’s office, but only international media was present. No local media broadcast her comments.

When Machado announced she would not be jailed, the crowd reacted  with “utter jubilation, under the pouring rain,” according to Caracas Chronicles journalist Emiliana Duarte, who was live blogging from the scene.

“The tone of today’s gathering was defiant, cheerful, and optimistic,” Duarte told Fusion. “But always tinged by the inescapable fact that we live in an oppressive state that persecutes and instills fear in citizens who dissent.  Fear, however, was not a protagonist today.”

Many young Venezuelans, like Duarte, have taken to the internet to circulate information about Machado’s case and express their solidarity with her using the hashtag #YoEstoyConMariaCorina (I stand with Maria Corina).

Lilian Tintori, the wife of another jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, also tweeted the following:

Machado’s indictment comes as Maduro authorized a 20 percent cut in government spending due to falling oil prices. The price of crude oil has fallen 50 percent since Venezuela approved its annual budget, which is funded almost entirely by oil export revenue.

The emergency budget cuts will deepen Venezuela’s economic woes, which are already characterized by food shortages and 60 percent inflation.

Some in Venezuela have wondered if the charges against Machado are intended to distract Venezuelans from the country’s deepening economic troubles.

For more on Venezuela, watch this Fusion story about the protests that swept the country earlier this year: #SOSVenezuela, 10 Days That Sparked the Crisis in Venenzuela.