Maria Corina Machado has emerged as the new leader of the Venezuelan opposition, following her victory in the primary elections held on October 22nd. The official results were delayed, with only 26% of the votes counted in the early morning, but the gap between Machado and her closest competitor, Carlos Prosperi, was nearly 90%.
In this preliminary count, Machado secured a commanding 93% of the votes, while Prosperi, the second-place candidate, managed only 4.75%. None of the other eight contenders aiming to lead the Venezuelan opposition electorally even reached 1%.
This election presents a significant challenge to President Maduro’s government, as María Corina Machado is disqualified from holding political office. In the ongoing negotiation period between the government and the opposition, the issue of disqualifications remains the most complex, yet it is a crucial requirement from the international community to validate the electoral process in 2024.
For the first time in years, Venezuelan emigrants were allowed to participate in the primary elections, and the turnout exceeded expectations, with over 2 million participants.
Renewal of the Venezuelan Opposition
From Francisco Arias Cardenas to the current opposition leader, a multitude of names have passed through the Venezuelan dissidence. However, none have succeeded in overcoming the Chavismo led by Nicolas Maduro for the past decade. Pedro Carmona, Carlos Ortega, Manuel Rosales, Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, and Juan Guaido, all at some point leaders of the anti-Chavismo, fell short for various reasons in their attempts to challenge the doctrine that has held power for 25 years.
Following Guaido’s failed interim presidency, the opposition needed to rejuvenate itself to present a convincing and united project for the upcoming presidential elections next year. The primary process to select the candidate was conducted without assistance from the Venezuelan state and faced numerous challenges. Nevertheless, the election was successful, and the significant challenge now is to maintain the fragile unity of the opposition group.
“This is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end… In 2024, we are going to win. We are going to remove Maduro and his regime and start the reconstruction,” Machado declared shortly after her resounding victory in the primaries.
Challenges for the Opposition: Unity and Machado’s Eligibility
Maria Corina Machado now confronts two significant challenges: preserving the traditionally fragile unity of the Chavista opposition and, perhaps most complex of all, restoring her eligibility to hold public office. It is essential to note that the Venezuelan government disqualified her in 2015 for one year on charges of “betrayal of the homeland,” a sanction that was later extended to 15 years.
At present, Machado has no opportunity to run in the 2024 presidential elections. Nonetheless, the opposition hopes that this situation could evolve, given the recent efforts of the government to engage with the opposition, resulting in the partial lifting of the U.S. trade blockade on Venezuelan oil, gas, and gold.
In this negotiation context, last week, five opposition politicians were released, and the Venezuelan government committed to establishing a specific electoral calendar for the presidential elections to be held in the second half of 2024.
The “Iron Lady” of Venezuela
Maria Corina Machado, often referred to as the “Iron Lady” of Venezuela, is a 56-year-old industrial engineer with a specialization in finance. She is divorced and the mother of three children living abroad. Her father is a well-known businessman in the metallurgical sector, whose companies were nationalized by Hugo Chávez.
Machado began gaining recognition as a significant dissident in 2012 when then-President Chavez made a disparaging comment about her to discredit her as an opponent. “An eagle doesn’t catch flies,” said the Venezuelan president, recommending that she win primaries within her political sector before addressing him. Eleven years later, Machado has accomplished precisely that as the current leader of the anti-Chavismo.
Finally, in the 2013 opposition presidential elections, with the death of Chavez, Henrique Capriles emerged as the opposition candidate, but he was defeated by Nicolás Maduro. Over a decade later, that “fly” will attempt what no opposition leader has achieved thus far: ending the Bolivarian Venezuela.
Anti-communist and Neoliberal
Maria Corina Machado has been involved in politics for over two decades. She is a staunch anti-communist and a strong advocate of neoliberalism. Her radicalism positions her in the most reactionary wing of the Venezuelan opposition. At one point, she even advocated for American military intervention in Venezuela.
As an ultraliberal leader, she has often been compared to Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister from the 1980s, dubbed the “Iron Lady”.
Dismissed by Chavismo and a portion of the opposition, Machado embarked on her journey to leadership alongside Leopoldo Lopez and after Capriles’s failure in 2013. A year later, she organized a campaign of violent street protests known as “La Salida,” which resulted in 40 deaths and 2,000 detentions.
Machado’s neoliberal program, if she comes to power in 2024, begins with a privatization policy that includes the Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves. Favoring deregulation and the full embrace of the free market, she advocates for “an inclusive and liberal development model to generate prosperity, wealth, and freedom in Venezuela,” in her own words. This model, prior to Chávez’s emergence, paradoxically led to poverty for millions of people in a territory with nearly unlimited natural resources.
Congratulations from the Regional Right
The continental right has already conveyed its congratulations to Machado for her victory in the primaries. For example, former Colombian President Ivan Duque (2018-2022) shared his congratulations on social media, stating, “I want to express my congratulations to Maria Corina for her triumph, bravery, and unwavering commitment to defending democracy.”
Duque emphasized the significance of the internal opposition primaries. “The primaries organized today by the opposition, both inside and outside of Venezuela, are a significant step toward the reestablishment of democracy. The real path to bring freedom back to the Venezuelan people will be if Nicolás Maduro steps aside from the electoral process and allows transparent elections without the fraudulent hand of the dictatorship,” said the former Colombian president.