María Corina Machado Is Not a Martyr

María Corina Machado Is Not a Martyr

The Venezuelan opposition leader’s proposals beg the cycle of the country’s dysfunction to repeat itself.

In the last few weeks, two staffers for Venezuelan opposition candidate María Corina Machado were arrested under false charges, according to Machado. There are warrants out for seven other members of her team. Machado had to choose a replacement, eighty-year-old academic Corina Yoris, who herself was banned from running. Still, this does not discount the ideological and political problems of the Venezuelan opposition that will need to be addressed if the opposition wants a chance at dethroning Maduro. 

Maduro is a brutal dictator who kills his own people and likely won’t allow for free and fair elections in July. Still, observers should be concerned about his competition. Machado has a poor record on democracy and human rights, while her economic proposals are problematic, to say the least. Is she really the best the opposition can offer?

With a murderous tyrant at the helm, it has never been more important for Venezuelans to have political options. But no matter how hard mainstream Western media praises Machado’s campaign, choosing between Maduro and Machado will be trying to choose the lesser of two evils.

In recent weeks, puff pieces about Machado have flooded Western media, with outlets hailing her as a “freedom fighter” and the “people’s princess.”

Machado is worryingly authoritarian, militaristic, ideological, and elitist. To begin, Machado’s extreme rhetoric, with promises of “burying socialism forever” and ridding all aspects of Venezuelan society from the scourge of Chavismo. She blames all of Venezuela’s ills on socialism. To a degree, that’s fair—authoritarian leftism is repressive, ineffective, and has plagued Venezuela for decades. But pinning all of the blame on socialism and dismissing Chavismo’s lingering popularity fails to capture the full extent of Venezuela’s problems.

Venezuela plunged into an economic and political crisis before Chávez, and the country was quite liberal and internationalist. In fact, private and Western interests dominated the country when it descended into chaos. The 1989 Caracazo, a series of mass protests in response to extreme neoliberal policies, was met with the Venezuelan government (some of whom were in Machado’s family) deploying the military and the killing of at least 276 protesters. Let’s not forget this event helped give rise to Chavismo.

Machado’s proposals beg the cycle to repeat itself. Her philosophy of “Popular Capitalism,” made prominent by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, puts all sectors, including public goods and state industries, under the whims of the free market. While Venezuela remains immensely dependent on oil revenues, implementing this would force Venezuela’s welfare to be fully contingent on international markets.

Dismissing all left-leaning ideas and state involvement in the economy could be dangerous and limit the country’s ability to adopt redistributive or egalitarian policies. Venezuela is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world (and was even before Chavismo). 

Then there’s Machado’s views on democracy, which were made evident during the 2002 attempted coup against Chávez. As grassroots movements representing impoverished and laboring communities nationwide rallied on the streets to call for Chávez’s reinstatement after a brief military coup by the opposition, Machado proceeded to the Miraflores Presidential Palace. 

At Miraflores, Machado allegedly aligned with her opposition counterparts to sign the Carmona Decree, which halted all democratic freedoms, annulled the recent Constitution ratified by a significant majority of voters three years prior, and appointed business magnate Pedro Carmona as the interim president. 

In terms of economics, Machado wants to completely “liberalize Venezuela” and privatize key sectors, including petroleum, natural gas, and mining, which would mean a takeover of those industries by extractive Western corporations. She has said that Venezuela’s oil “would be a great investment opportunity” for U.S. energy instead of focusing on Venezuela’s domestic market. The PDVSA, the state-owned petroleum company, is Venezuela’s largest source of employment and revenue. While this may be good for American companies, depriving thousands of Venezuelans of their livelihoods and prospects may recreate the political and economic conditions for another crisis, harming stability and investment in the long term.

Dismantling the PDVSA and giving control away to foreign companies would cause irreparable economic damage to the Venezuelan working class. Liberal policies should solve inequalities and create economic opportunity—this does the opposite. Machado has not communicated any interest in protecting Venezuelan jobs in a privatization plan, instead focusing on making Venezuela attractive to American investors.

Machado has also proposed to rid the country of its communal council system, which, through direct democracy, has helped increase the poor’s access to land, decrease economic inequality, create wealth within the poorest areas of Venezuela, and give state protections to farmers.

Communal councils also allow local communities to participate directly in political decision-making that affects them, strengthening the political power of rural communities. Eliminating this system without an alternative would exacerbate the economic power of the Venezuelan and foreign elites in the country.

These ideas also fuel the perception of Machado as an out-of-touch elite, which is not helped by the fact that Yale selected Machado as a 2009 “World Fellow” and frequently gave speeches to receptive foreign policy and business circles in the United States.

She has spent her career receiving extensive financial support from institutions backed by the U.S. foreign policy establishment, including the International Republican Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. This raises many suspicions among Venezuelan voters, who are extremely wary of American interventionism.

Her family is among the richest in Venezuela, accumulating their wealth as oil magnates. It is no surprise that Maduro has capitalized on her background to call her a “far-right capitalist spawn of the United States,” an attack that has resonated.

The opposition should find someone with grassroots connections and a working-class message to counter Chavismo where it most resonates.

Machado’s party, Plataforma Unitaria, which includes Juan Guaidó, has also been partially supportive of a forceful annexation of Guyana’s Essequibo region. It claims that “the Essequibo is ours” and that its current state is a by-product of British imperialism—forgetting that Guyana gained sovereignty over the Essequibo after gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.

Her views on security and militarism would further plunge Venezuela into chaos. She has deep ties to the military and has repeatedly called for a military intervention into Venezuela to depose Maduro, which would create a power vacuum leading to immense destruction and suffering. An intervention in Venezuela might accelerate state collapse in the country, reminiscent of American interventions in Iraq or Libya, rather than provide democracy and stability.

For now, Machado has been barred from running because she failed to comply with electoral laws. Maduro has increased his grip on power as the opposition lacks electoral legitimacy, signaling that he is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Even if that weren’t the case, the liberal-democratic world should be wary of supporting Machado. While she may be slightly better than Maduro in theory, opposing Chavismo should not be the only standard. Venezuelans deserve a better alternative for the freedom and prosperity of their nation.

Joseph Bouchard is a freelance journalist and analyst covering geopolitics in the Americas, with reporting experience in Bolivia, Colombia, and Brazil. His articles have appeared in The Diplomat, Mongabay, Le Devoir, La Razón, Responsible Statecraft, and Brazilian Report. He is a contributor to Young Voices.