Machado: A Beacon of Hope in Venezuela’s Political Crisis

Politicians who talk about “rendezvous with history” make me cringe. Still, it is hard to argue that the presidential elections that will take place in Venezuela on July 28 are anything but that. The opposition (or, more accurately, the resistance movement) is currently at its strongest. It is united behind one of Latin America’s most formidable leaders, María Corina Machado, a woman of classical liberal persuasion who enjoys approximately 70 percent popular support. Conversely, the tyrant governing the country and his entire administration have never been weaker.

They have weakened to the extent that even Nicolás Maduro’s allies in Latin America, such as Brazil’s Lula da Silva and Colombia’s Gustavo Petro (in many respects a Chavista himself), have distanced themselves from Caracas’ attempts to rig the election weeks before the vote in various ways. These efforts have included barring Machado’s right to run for office.

Lest my enthusiasm misleads anyone, let me be clear: The entire system works against the opposition in Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro has already violated what was agreed upon in Barbados in October of 2023 under international supervision. This agreement was between the Venezuelan dictatorship and the Democratic Unitary Platform to ensure that the presidential election would be free and fair.

After winning the primaries by a landslide, Machado was barred from running. The person chosen by her party as a stand-in, Corina Yoris, was subsequently also prevented from registering as a candidate. After several maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, the united opposition decided to support one of the few candidates allowed to register, Edmundo González, a well-respected 74-year-old diplomat who, nevertheless, was largely unknown to the public.

Since then, Machado has crisscrossed the country, drawing large crowds wherever she goes. The National Electoral Council has not updated the electoral register (which is another violation of the Barbados Accords), meaning that millions will not be able to vote, including, crucially, the immense majority of the eight million Venezuelans who have had to leave the country in recent years and loathe the regime. Additionally, neutral international observers, including those from the European Union, have been banned on election day—yet another violation of the Barbados Accords.

Given all of this, what are the grounds for optimism? In the context of Venezuela, optimism doesn’t mean that Maduro will accept his defeat on election night. He will try to rig the election, for sure. But with an almost guaranteed three-to-one difference in favor of González, it will be impossible for Maduro to manipulate the tally as easily as he has done in the past.

The opposition has put up a vast network of local observers and teams of well-trained people who will be vigilant of any suspicious act or incident on election day and, through various means, will be putting out lots of information to keep Venezuelans and the rest of the world informed. The fraud will be blatant and grotesque, likely unleashing a process, including internal resistance and international pressure, that the dictatorship will not find easy to counter. Many Venezuelans and the international community believe that the dynamics triggered by a massive opposition win on July 28 can produce cracks in the dictatorship, render Maduro’s orders ineffective, and set in motion some form of transition.

Machado and her collaborators (many of whom are in prison or under diplomatic protection in the Argentinean embassy) have given guarantees that they will negotiate a peaceful transfer of power with any credible faction of the regime willing to accept the opposition’s victory. This includes allowing Chavismo to continue to exist as a political force in a pluralistic liberal democracy.

Those like María Corina Machado, who have been fighting for freedom for decades, deserve to keep the hope alive that things will be different this time. 

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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