'I support and will continue to support María Corina': The Venezuelan dictatorship closed this humble restaurant for welcoming the opposition leader, but its female owners remain firm

It's not the first time this has happened. The Maduro regime has also sanctioned hotels where María Corina has stayed.

The Venezuelan opposition leader, María Corina Machado, is touring the country, building a movement that could see the presidential elections on July 28 as a major turning point. Although Machado herself is not running since she was arbitrarily disqualified by the regime, the opposition candidate, she has endorsed diplomat Edmundo González Urrutia.

Machado is traveling the country with the image of González Urrutia in hand and has reached the most remote towns, historically dominated by the regime and where guerrillas maintains their presence. In each town, the response of the people is overwhelming.

On her last trip, on the way to the plains state of San Fernando de Apure, Machado stopped with her team to have breakfast at a humble roadside restaurant, located in the small town of Corozo Pando, in the state of Guárico, 200 miles south of Caracas.

The restaurant, called Pancho Grill, is a small and humble family business run by four sisters. It had previously welcomed Machado in 2021. Precisely for this reason, Machado decided to visit them again. She remembered each one perfectly. The opposition leader is recognized for making efforts to have breakfast, lunch, dinner or stay overnight in small businesses, whose owners she later remembers and tries to visit again. This was the case of Pancho Grill.

"She had already come in 2021. The place caught her attention. She came, had a coffee. She was very friendly. She treated us very well. Very cool, and we treated her wonderfully, as we treat everyone," says Corina Hernández, one of the sisters who runs the small restaurant in Corozo Pando, to Voz Media.

"Yesterday we had not sold any empanadas and we saw that several cars were coming, little by little. I tell my sister that it looked like a government caravan. She tells me: 'Maybe it's María Corina, who is passing by.' Through social media we knew that María Corina could pass by here. Just then, the trucks came in, a girl got out and asked me if we had 14 breakfasts for sale," says Hernández.

Photo provided to Voz Media by the Hernández sisters during Machado's visit to Pancho Grill.

Corina Hernández and her sister were happy about the business, without knowing that the person inside one of the vans was the opposition leader Machado. At that point, just as the empanadas were ready, Machado got out of his vehicle to greet the sisters. She entered the kitchen, hugged them and recognized them. Machado and her team had breakfast, paid the bill and continued the trip. Not even 40 minutes passed before Pancho Grill received another visit, but this time hostile.

"About 30 minutes had passed when the SENIAT hit us," says Hernández. The SENIAT is, in Venezuela, the treasury, and is in the hands of José David Cabello, the brother of the renowned Venezuelan leader Diosdado Cabello, accused by the United States of drug trafficking.

"They started asking us for some papers that we didn't have. They started to investigate us and I told them all at once: 'I know that you are here because María Corina came before, because in all the years we have worked in the restaurant, you have never visited us.' ... It is unusual that they come to such a humble restaurant, where there are days when we barely sell an empanada, and today, when we sell so much breakfast, they want to punish us."

The SENIAT then decided to inspect the restaurant and closed it, citing administrative irregularities.

In a video that went viral on social media, one of the sisters claims: "They are closing our business because María Corina Machado came and bought breakfast, for God's sake. They are closing us down. We are working women and they are closing us down."

Hernández says that she and her family see the possibility that the regime will imprison them or impose a fine that they will never be able to pay. They know that the action against them is politically motivated, but they are not willing to give in.

"It is a massive injustice. We are workers, humble people, women who fight every day. We get up at 5 in the morning to open the business, to work. We know that this is personal," she told Voz Media.

It's not the first time something similar has happened. The Nicolás Maduro regime had already sanctioned other businesses where Machado has visited. A restaurant on Margarita Island where the opposition leader had lunch months ago was closed. The hotels where she stayed during her tour in the states of Zulia and Falcón were also sanctioned.

"Let her stay at my house!" said a user on X.

The owner of a hotel in the state of Aragua, said: "They can sanction me however they want, but María Corina can stay in my hotel as many times as she wants."

Paradoxically, this persecution has only injected fuel into the enthusiasm around Machado. The intention of spreading terror has been diluted. People, annoyed, turn around. The sisters who own Pancho Grill will not be intimidated either. When Corina Hernández was asked if the measure will cause her to stop supporting Machado, she responded bluntly: "Not at all. Of course I support her. I support her in this new stage and I will continue to support her for a change for Venezuela."

"I know a lot of people who will support her. My family. Everyone, to get out of this big problem that we have with this government. We have to be free. Look what's happening to us. They want to manipulate us, they want to scare us for welcoming the people we love. And, well, it's time to continue the fight," Hernández said.