Venezuela’s Point of no Return

María Corina Machado

María Corina Machado

© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Ariana Cubillos

María Corina Machado, is Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leader. She embodies the unwavering commitment to democratic principles in the face of daunting challenges, constant threats and even physical attacks. The actual momentum build upon the primaries is Maduro’s biggest nightmare.

Venezuelans have withstood unimaginable hardships. The severe economic crisis has pushed over 80% of the population into poverty, more than half into extreme poverty.[1] The regime has captured all political and military power; the institutional degradation is continuing unabatedly. This miserable reality has made over 7 million Venezuelans to leave their home - an exodus of a dimension only second to war-torn Syria.[2] Without a democratic alternative, the humanitarian crisis will further worsen.

Despite these challenges, there are courageous voices fighting to reclaim democracy in Venezuela. The most outspoken of them is María Corina Machado, the opposition frontrunner in the upcoming primary elections on October 22nd, who was unjustly disqualified from public office in a politically motivated process tainted by irregularities. This latest disqualification is neither an isolated nor a new incident. Suppressing opposition voices is part of the authoritarian’s playbook, in Venezuela’s Maduro regime just as much as under the Ortega rule in Nicaragua.

In the past, the Maduro regime has imprisoned popular opposition leaders, such as Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. And it has systematically harassed opposition parties by stripping them of their legal status. In 2015, Maria Corina Machado was barred from the parliamentary race. Ever since then, the regime has imposed mounting restrictions such as preventing her from taking domestic flights and leaving the country to visit her three children who live abroad. None of these obstacles has undermined her spirit. As leader of the liberal party Vente Venezuela, Machado has crisscrossed the country, undertaking grueling car journeys to connect with supporters and tirelessly campaigning. Her determination and resilience are contagious and have propelled her to emerge as the clear leader in the primary election polls, garnering over 68 per cent of support.[3] Her resonance on social media is enormous – e. g., with 4.4 million followers on Twitter in a country of 28 million people.

The disqualification of Machado has backfired Maduro’s calculated move to stifle dissent and consolidate the ruling party's control. It has also awakened the international community and brought together opposition leaders in exile and within Venezuela to condemn the interference of the election process. Even left-wing presidents in Latin America have joined this condemnation.

The actual momentum built upon the primaries is a point of no return for Venezuela. What is at stake is no less than a unique opportunity to defeat Maduro with a unified opposition regardless of the unlevel playing field of the 2024 presidential elections. Venezuela’s future ultimately depends on the unified efforts of the opposition, civil society, and the international community. Venezuelans have the right to freely choose their leaders through fair and transparent elections. The disqualification of María Corina Machado and other opposition leaders is a violation of these fundamental democratic principles and human rights. Taking action to help Venezuela is a matter of solidarity, humanitarian concern and safeguarding democracy.

Karl-Heinz Paqué is Deputy President and Juli Minoves Honorary President of LIBERAL INTERNATIONAL. Both closely cooperate with Red Liberal de América Latina (RELIAL) on a Liberal Manifesto for Latin America to  be launched at a meeting in Guatemala in fall 2023.

[1] https://forbes.co/2022/11/10/actualidad/la-pobreza-extrema-en-venezuela-baja-al-533
[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-07-06/venezuela-banned-opposition-contender-machado-leads-primaries