- The opposition parties stage a primary in hope of forcing a real election in 2024.
By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
In an age of hyperpartisanship, it sometimes seems that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on the color of the grass. It’s notable therefore that 13 Senate Democrats and seven Republicans signed an Aug. 31 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling on the Biden administration to wake up and smell the dictatorship in Venezuela.
A 2024 Venezuelan presidential election is a chance to recover democracy, and it’s in the U.S. interest to see it happen, the senators explain in their letter. The economy is in ruins. “More than seven million Venezuelans have already fled the country in desperation.” The nation can’t “afford another fraudulent election, which will only bring further suffering” and “foment greater instability in the Americas.” Yet that’s where the regime is headed, “already doing everything possible to undermine prospects for a credible vote.”
Talk of a free election in a dictatorship may seem preposterous. The police states built by Stalin, Mao, Castro and Chávez made sure that the boss and his successors were never voted out of office.
There have, however, been strongmen in modern history pushed aside by popular will. It happened to Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega in 1990 and Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević in 2000.
In a recent telephone interview from Caracas, presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado acknowledged multiple failed efforts to restore democracy peacefully in her country. But this time, she says, things are different.
One reason is that the Venezuelan government has morphed into an internationally recognized organized-crime syndicate, and even left-wing leaders like Chilean President Gabriel Boric have distanced themselves from it. “Maduro has turned into a toxic figure,” Ms. Machado says, pointing to an ongoing investigation of allegations of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
The opposition’s primary, set for Oct. 22, is another reason for hope. Thirteen candidates are vying for a single nomination that major opposition parties and others have pledged to support. The privately run primary circumvents Mr. Maduro’s national electoral council. There will be voting in 81 cities around the world to serve the large diaspora; inside Venezuela there are 3,010 polling stations across all 24 states.
“Venezuela looked demoralized six months ago,” Ms. Machado says. “But not anymore.” Today it’s “a society determined to fight for freedom.”
The candidate insists that critical support among groups that Mr. Maduro—and Chávez—once counted on has plummeted. “The grip that the regime has had over a large segment of the population has been lost.” This includes elements inside “the armed forces, the police, the paramilitary groups known as ‘collectivos.’ What I’m seeing is that the social pressure has grown to such a level that people are desperate, and the military too, in the low and mid ranks.” Power groups inside the government are fracturing, she says, making reference to the March purge of former Chávez insider Tareck El Aissami on charges of corruption at the state-owned oil company, PDVSA.
A June survey by the Venezuelan polling company Delphos found that 85% of Venezuelans believe a change in government is necessary. The poll had Ms. Machado finishing first with a 27-point lead over her closest rival. Mr. Maduro considers her a threat. In June he disqualified her from running in 2024.
“Their whole campaign is, ‘Don’t vote for her because she won’t be allowed to run,’ ” Ms. Machado told me. But the ban has boosted her popularity. “If I do well, then it will be clear who the leader of the opposition is. Maduro will be forced, in his negotiations with the international community, to lift bans on candidates and hold free elections.”
Ms. Machado calls the humanitarian crisis in oil-rich Venezuela “absurd” because “there is no other country in the region that has what Venezuela has.” To combat poverty she envisions turning the country into South America’s energy hub, creating opportunity across all segments of society.
“Foreign investors who buy into the false premise that there is no possibility of regime change, simply look to coexist. But Maduro is not invincible. We will build back trust, restructure the debt and engage in massive privatization—and investment returns will be huge.”
More importantly for Ms. Machado, so will the quality-of-life returns to Venezuelans who today suffer, beyond material privation, unimaginable loss of loved ones who have been forced to emigrate.
“There is one element that brings Venezuelans together: the desire to have our children back home,” she says. “People are fighting to reunite their families or they say ‘I don’t want my last one to leave.’ This has reached a spiritual dimension. People, a lot who consider themselves chavistas, say ‘I am so tired of this humiliation.’ This goes beyond hunger.”
The outward migration is intentional on the part of the regime, Ms. Machado says. “They want people to give up.” But “when people see that things that look hard and improbable are ethically inescapable, that’s how change is made.”
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally on the WSJ, September17, 2023, print edition as ‘AOC’s Socialist Sympathy Tour’. 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 09 25 2023