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Meet Corina Yoris the 80-Year-Old Grandmother Who’s Taking On Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro – Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas

Corina Yoris is an eminent academic, grandmother of seven who are exiled like millions of Venezuelans Corina Yoris is challenging Nicolás Maduro for president.(Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The Wall Street Journal)
Corina Yoris is an eminent academic, grandmother of seven who are exiled like millions of Venezuelans Corina Yoris is challenging Nicolás Maduro for president.(Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The Wall Street Journal)

By Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas

She hasn’t ever held a public post or campaigned for office.

But 80-year-old Corina Yoris, a widow and grandmother to seven children, had been plucked out of her quiet life in academia, one of scholarly tomes on philosophy and classes on Venezuela’s 1940s-era history, to challenge that country’s strongman in July’s presidential election—if she isn’t banned from participating first.

“It’s totally surreal because I’ve dedicated my life to academia, to the university life,” Yoris told The Wall Street Journal. “Aspirations of becoming president of the republic have never passed through my head.”

But with Maria Corina Machado, the opposition politician Venezuelan voters chose to challenge Nicolás Maduro banned from office, 10 opposition parties supported Yoris to run against Maduro. The selection of Yoris—announced Friday, surprising much of the country and the international community that backs the opposition—is seen by many analysts as a masterstroke.

Ten opposition parties supported Corina Yoris, right, to run after Maria Corina Machado, left, was banned from office. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press
Ten opposition parties supported Corina Yoris, right, to run after Maria Corina Machado, left, was banned from office. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press

“She’s a philosopher, she’s a historian,” said Phil Gunson, a Briton who has lived in Venezuela for 25 years and researches the country’s politics for the global nonprofit International Crisis Group. “She’s a student of advanced logic. She has an incredible brain. And she’s rather engaging and amusing and likable. Everyone speaks very highly of her ethical standing.”

She is also the mother of three who now live in the U.S. and Britain, where they are raising their children. That makes Yoris highly representative of those left behind in Venezuela—countless grandparents and parents who have seen their children and grandchildren flee the country as it descended into oppression and economic calamity.

“I’m representative of a population that had suffered what I’m suffering. Me personally,” said Yoris. “I’ve met and seen grow my grandchildren through social media, through zoom, in video calls. That’s very painful, very sad. They broke the ties that families had.”

Nearly eight million Venezuelans have emigrated in Maduro’s 11-year reign, most settling in Latin America, though hundreds of thousands are now in the U.S. The opposition has warned that if Maduro receives another six-year term, the re-election would trigger another large exodus, meaning more young people fleeing and leaving older Venezuelans behind.

“The life of a senior here is a life of loneliness,” said 83-year-old entrepreneur Orencio Mariñas.

After immigrating to Venezuela from Spain in the late 1950s, Mariñas said he started seven companies during the country’s oil-driven economic boom. He has in recent years watched as one property was expropriated. He has had to close down the others. His only son and grandson moved to Colombia and now help support him.

Corina Yoris says she has dedicated her life to academia. Photographs of Yoris and her mother on their wedding days.
Corina Yoris says she has dedicated her life to academia. Photographs of Yoris and her mother on their wedding days.

Mariñas said he knows little about Yoris, but trusts her because of her alliance with Machado. If Yoris wins, he said he hopes she will step aside for Machado to take over, whom he sees as the best option for political change in the country.

“I hope that my son will be able to move back one day and spend the rest of the time I have on this earth together,” he said. “It’s a dream I’m still holding on to, and frankly, it’s what is keeping me alive.”

Daisy Serrano, 60, has daughters in Chile and Peru, a son in Colombia and grandchildren spread among the three. In Venezuela, Serrano cares for the son of the daughter who is in Chile, who is only 4.

“It’s so sad that your grandchildren have to leave the country because of the situation that we have,” said Serrano, who said she lives on the cash transfers her relatives send home. “Sometimes, I’m so sad, but I ask God to give me the strength to keep on living.”

Serrano said Yoris is like her and “should know what grandmothers here feel.” She also hopes that a new government will stabilize Venezuela and prompt exiles, like those in her family, to return.

“We could all live in a Venezuela like the one we had many years ago,” Serrano said.

Though respondents to a poll by the American company ClearPath Strategies haven’t heard of Yoris, the results clearly showed that Venezuelans want change—reflecting previous polls by other companies. In the past decade, the economy contracted 80% as oil output fell precipitously, and inflation at one point hit 2 million percent.

The poll showed that an opposition candidate backed by Machado would win 49% to 27% for Maduro. Even a candidate who doesn’t have her support would squeak out victory over Maduro, 35% to 27%, the poll shows. And though Maduro’s regime has jailed political activists—including seven of Machado’s campaign workers—the poll shows that 76% of opposition and undecided voters want a chance to cast a ballot.

A poll shows that an opposition candidate backed by Machado would win 49% to 27% for Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press
A poll shows that an opposition candidate backed by Machado would win 49% to 27% for Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press

Guillermo Bolinaga, a Venezuelan with the Opportunitas Advisors political-risk firm in Miami, said that the latest developments amount to “a perfect storm for Maduro.”

“His popularity is at the lowest level in the history of the Chavista movement, with negativity ratings above 70%,” Bolinaga said, referring to the movement Maduro leads that was founded by the late Hugo Chávez. “And the turnout is increasing despite the obstacles. People are not afraid to vote.”

Major obstacles remain, with analysts and opposition activists concerned that electoral authorities could rig the vote as they have been accused of doing in the past. In addition, the Maduro regime has shown little interest in providing a way for millions of voting-age Venezuelan émigrés to cast ballots.

As of Sunday, Yoris said she hadn’t been able to register herself as a candidate online and the government hadn’t provided a reason. The deadline is Monday. 

Iris Varela, a regime official close to Maduro, on Sunday asserted in a post on X that Yoris wouldn’t be allowed to run because she has both Venezuelan and Uruguayan citizenship. Yoris says she was born and raised in Caracas and holds no other nationalities. Government supporters also claim that Yoris’s criticism of Maduro amounts to inviting foreign intervention, a justification made in the past for some arrests.   

‘I’m representative of a population that had suffered what I’m suffering,’ said Corina Yoris. Photo: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The Wall Street Journal
‘I’m representative of a population that had suffered what I’m suffering,’ said Corina Yoris. Photo: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The Wall Street Journal

Analysts and political activists say Yoris was vetted carefully so the regime couldn’t find a pretext to bar her. But they explain that the electoral board or courts, both controlled by the executive, could clearly sideline her as they have several opposition candidates who polls show would have beaten Maduro handily in recent years.

“If the government is going to block you from standing (for election), there’s not a lot you can do,” said Gunson of the Crisis Group, noting that another option is running a candidate who would clearly lose.

Yoris said she isn’t afraid to campaign or engage with reporters.

“I have a lot of facility with language,” she said. “I’m going to do it, alongside Maria Corina.” 

Asked what she, as president, would do for Venezuela she recalled the democratic years when the country, though flawed in many ways, appealed to immigrants escaping Latin American dictatorships and hardship in southern Europe. “I want to give Venezuela what Venezuela has given me,” she said. “I could study in this country. I could educate my children in this country. I could do all manner of things in this country.”

While not a politician, Yoris said she has taught classes on logic and such esoteric disciplines as the philosophy of argumentation, where she has delved into the concepts of Chaïm Perelman, a Belgian who was one of the 20th Century’s most renowned argumentation theorists, and British philosopher Stephen Toulmin. Two years ago, she was named by civil-society groups to serve on an opposition-led commission, which was responsible for organizing the primary elections last year that Machado won by a wide margin

Corina Yoris said she hadn’t been able to register herself as a candidate online and the government hadn’t provided a reason. Photo: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The Wall Street Journal
Corina Yoris said she hadn’t been able to register herself as a candidate online and the government hadn’t provided a reason. Photo: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The Wall Street Journal

But Yoris isn’t only about working with the opposition or delving into her extensive library in her house in the luxuriant mountains outside Caracas.

She so loves the Real Madrid soccer club that she live-tweets its matches on X. 

“I’m totally for Madrid, and people laugh a lot about this,” said Yoris, who during a recent match tweeted out: “This is a scandal! The referee ends the game and takes a goal away from Real Madrid.”

And though she fires off messages about blackouts and the work of Albert Camus, she also takes photos of the fog-covered hills, flowers and fruit stands overflowing with Venezuela’s bounty. She explained that her desire is to show beauty. “It’s a message of joy because we’ve been submitted to a very ugly dark cloud,” she said. “So I try to send out a message of optimism, and I take photographs of my surroundings.”

____________________________________________

Juan Forero is the bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal in South America. Kejal Vyas is the regional correspondent in South America for The Wall Street Journal. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.  EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views. Write to Juan Forero at juan.forero@wsj.com and Kejal Vyas at kejal.vyas@wsj.com

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on March 24 2024. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

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EnergiesNet.com 03 25 2024

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