Primero Justicia Has a Brand New Boss

Primero Justicia chose a new president and, for the first time in its history, it’s a woman, María Beatriz Martínez. Whether this is just a gesture or a real sign of renovation is one of the subjects of this conversation

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Primero Justicia (PJ) has a new president after more than 20 years under the leadership of Julio Borges. On September 24th, the party chose María Beatriz Martínez as its new leader. This is a powerful message: a woman who doesn’t come from Caracas or Maracaibo (she was elected in 2015 as congresswoman for Portuguesa state) at the front of a political party in Venezuela, marking an apparent generational shift in PJ. However, only two of the seven posts in the national board or authorities went to women, and Martínez will remain surrounded by the heavyweights who handled the party for years. 

So, is this just a facade to make PJ look inclusive and anew? She says to Caracas Chronicles that this is for real, as she shares her doubts about recognizing Juan Guaidó as caretaker president.  “Guaidó’s caretakership ceased to have a meaning long ago.”

Why should women think that, because of your appointment, this party is more inclusive?

MBM: Facts speak louder than proposals. For us, three things are important: allowing and incentivizing more women in positions of power; helping overcome gender gaps, which really exist, by providing tools to women aspiring to those posts; and using a gender perspective with all initiatives embraced by this party. It’s true that we have gender-differentiated problems in Venezuela, but we have too many important women in the party and the whole country.

Precisely, in order to incentivize the inclusion of women in positions of power, wouldn’t it have been easier to fix gender quotes, which PJ decided not to follow?

MBM: We may end up complaining with gender parity in the facts, while there are factors that set those quotes but don’t follow them. I was the only woman when I got to the regional board in Portuguesa, and now I left the regional coordination with eight women as chiefs out of 14 municipalities in that state. This shows what I believe in. I didn’t need, and we still don’t, a rule to give opportunities to women that have so much to offer. What we need is that they believe in what they can do. Women making decisions is the true social evolution of the 21st century.

The doubts aren’t only about the party’s internal elections. For years, Primero Justicia avoided important debates such as women’s rights, abortion and rights of the LGBTQ+ community. 

MBM: Those debates are unavoidable. What I see clearly is that defending our actions for human beings has to do with all those factors you just mentioned. One of the reasons behind the unnecessary noise and controversies is that some seek to kidnap several positions under a unique vision, turning the gender cause towards a specific doctrinary, dogmatic or political sector, instead of pushing for respecting  diversity. Primero Justicia is one of the parties with a more solid humanist doctrine. I’m sure those debates you mention will take place.

But you guys keep saying you are or will be debating these matters while the population is still waiting for your positions about same sex marriage, for instance. Are you committed to providing the nation with a clear party position on these questions?

MBM: Yes, the party hasn’t fixed a position. There are several visions, but the fact that those debates are coming is a commitment I make as president of PJ.

Many people didn’t know you. How did you get to lead one of Venezuela’s more important parties? 

MBM: Because of my knowledge of common Venezuelans. I come from Portuguesa, a state with many things to say politically. In this party, I never felt inferior to any other leadership. In 2016, at the National Assembly, I was part of the national board of authorities. Given that PJ has an intense debate and gives many opportunities, I was given the chance to fix positions, which made me proud but also meant a lot of responsibilities. I’m a deeply institutional person. I think the only way is to defend the institutions with facts and the support of all leaders.

Some say you are a player for Julio Borges. 

MBM: I’m a player for Primero Justicia. Many seem to think it’s worrying that we have many leaders. For me, that is evidently very positive, that means the party is solid. I have no doubts or fear about admitting I deeply admire Julio Borges as a man of democracy and institutions. I admire that he said he has no interest or right to cut the wings of someone else who aspires to lead a new phase, while he could have remained as president of the party.

“None of the Changes in Primero Justicia Are Cosmetic”

Borges remains as vice president of communications, strategy and foreign relations. It seems he will keep a lot of power in PJ. Is he becoming a shadow president or will you be autonomous when making decisions?

MBM: I’m already autonomous, since the moment I was appointed and took an oath to assume the competencies and responsibilities prescribed in our statutes. I don’t see among the vice presidencies any power overlapping or overstepping other areas. I’m sure all vice presidents are key assets to our goal of serving more and better.

What could be corrected with respect to the way Borges presided the party?

MBM: Maybe to be more at the front when the time comes. Sometimes you must go from conciliation to decision making, be it from a consensus, supported by a majority or just assuming the challenge.

When do you think Borges failed to be more at the front?

MBM: Maybe there were circumstances, related to the political events since 2019, where different visions within the party weren’t fully assumed or distilled into a unique vision. That is what this new process expects, going through reinstitutionalizing the party; who makes the decisions, and when. We need to ensure decisions are made by the people in charge of executing them.

Is Primero Justicia still recognizing Juan Guaidó as caretaker president of Venezuela?

MBM: We have a critical posture, where we have demanded transparency through our authorized voices and documents. The transition statute is in effect, and it established an expiration date and institutional support for the protection of foreign assets, international representation and the institutionality of the National Assembly. That agreement from January 2022 clearly leads to an imminent consequence, the end of a term.

Do you agree with Borges regarding the end of the caretakership?

MBM: I think Guaidó’s caretakership ceased to be relevant a long time ago, as what was established in the transition statute. It’s not Borges’s opinion, but the party’s.

Many times, PJ seems to host many different opinions around the same thing, or to change its positions.

MBM: One of the reasons behind the current reinstitutionalization process is the need to clearly differentiate the instances, discipline and channels for who, and when and how a decision is made and enforced.

What does Henrique Capriles mean for Primero Justicia? He seems to weave his own strategies beyond the party.

MBM: He’s a fundamental leader in Venezuela and PJ. Even if he doesn’t typically prioritize the party’s positions over his own, he always understands the party and, more frequently than people imagine, he’s involved in our decisions.

Have you decided when and how you will choose the candidate for the opposition primaries in 2023?

MBM: We have a timetable to finish the internal rule to choose the presidential candidate. We are working on how to build those primaries, which conditions they need to have. It’s not an internal debate but the complement to the vision of defeating the strategy of Maduro and the regime of dividing the opposition votes. Our objective must be to rebuild Venezuela, which goes through reunifying that vote.

What is PJ putting on the table as conditions for holding the primaries?

MBM: It would be irresponsible of me to anticipate decisions we are still to make.

At this moment, it seems there are two clearly different ways of doing politics in Venezuela: confronting the chavista regime and speaking up against human rights violations, or quitting the fight for democracy and just remaining silent on certain subjects to survive politically. Which path is PJ taking with you as the president?

MBM: Radical positions that pressure us to be all or nothing just don’t fit the facts. There are moments when you can’t remain silent after witnessing human rights violations. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate or consider things such as reopening the border with Colombia, which wouldn’t mean we are supporting those who represent human rights violations.

PJ probably has the most important youth ranks among all parties. How will you consolidate the generational shift if the same leaders, with meager results, refuse to give space to the younger ones?

MBM: The daily facts within Primero Justicia don’t confirm 100% that appraisal. You are saying we are the biggest quarry of leaders in Venezuela…

But not all of them are in the same line. The party is still under the same guys: Borges, Guanipa, Capriles…

MBM: But we have Paola Bautista, one of the most lucid intellectuals in contemporary Venezuela. And Juan Requesens, who represents not only a generation, but has gone through massive, painful trials.

Are you afraid that Maduro will come after you, now that you have such a role?

MBM: This is part of the big risks assumed when you embrace politics with truth, in a country like this one we are living in. A constant since the first moment I decided to enter politics. The risks are real and I have experienced them already. But being brave isn’t about being free of fear, but audacious and assuming the risks.

You won’t have an easy ride. According to the More Consulting poll in July, only 26.4% of Venezuelans trust traditional parties. How do you explain that disconnection and how do you expect to recover the people’s trust in PJ?

MBM: Citizens are resentful about the failure of achieving the political change in 23 years of considerable suffering. The best way to reconnect with them is being very honest, with transparency, and doing direct politics. It’s very important to raise the flag of the hunger for justice to get to power. I mean, to say we are a political party and we want to reach power to do things differently on this and that. We can’t be shy about that. Power is the only way to change things.