María Corina Machado: 'We Must Privatize PDVSA'

Leading the polls ahead of the opposition primaries, María Corina Machado shifts her speech aiming for a bigger tent

A longer version of this interview was published in Spanish by Politiks

Why do you think the caretaker government failed to produce a transition to democracy?

The interim government was a great lost opportunity, one in which many of us put a lot of effort. I think there was a confusion between means and goals. The goal was to topple the regime but they were distracted by other matters.

How do you see the many doubts around the primaries?

What really matters now is to wonder what the primaries are for. If their goal is to replace the regime and rebuild the country, are the primaries useful for that? I think they are. So the primaries could be the big opportunity to gather strength and be better prepared to face the regime and its tricks in 2024. It’s more than choosing a candidate, so we must try to attract as many people as we can. We must design the process to maximize turnout, because it’s about strength. Therefore, the question is whether the people would want to vote if the Plan República is involved, whether they are going to deal with the CNE machines again, and whether they feel the regime is in control of the process. 

On the other hand, I don’t think we can conceive that we have to say to a fourth of the Venezuelan population living abroad that they can’t vote. We would have a huge impact if half a million, or one million people abroad vote in the primaries. But we must be able to defend those votes abroad. We have to play hard, because our lives are at stake. 

Another thing: if the regime has degraded the electoral system so much, how do we think the primaries should be? In that restrictive manner that they’ve imposed over us or in one that our votes actually count.

We must set a high standard, and from there push for the conditions in 2024. 

But if the primaries don’t meet the conditions you just described, are you still taking part?

We have time, this is not about money, but about will. The problem isn’t whether I take part in the primaries or not, but that you take part in the primaries. I think we must listen to what the people are asking for. The primary commission has a historic responsibility towards a society tired of signing blank cheques, that wants to be heard. 

If the commission launches a debate, would you go?

I hope we’ll have many debates, and soon. 

If you’re not chosen as the unitary candidate, would you respect the result and support whoever becomes the candidate?

I’m a person who walks the talk, you know me.

How do you think the opposition can reconnect with the voters? 

I think people are very aware of what’s happening, and very disappointed, for a reason. But that doesn’t mean they forgot about politics, which would mean to drown in the tyranny’s dynamics. Many people know the meaning of 2024. I think it’s a genuine crossroads, where the regime can use it to wash its face and consolidate power, bringing long years of darkness to our country. My goal is to win in 2024. It’s going to be very hard. Above all, this is a spiritual fight, between good and evil. 

Why would we vote for you for President?

I think Venezuelans know for certain that the only way of transforming the country is by defeating a system that took hold like a cyst to our nation’s flesh, doing enormous damage. So we must choose someone who can defeat the system, displace it, and call the entire nation to a transformation process over very strong republican, ethical and liberal foundations, in order to leave behind, in a relatively short term, the darkness, the poverty, the division of family and society, and make Venezuela able to exploit all its extraordinary potential. 

How do you define yourself, ideologically? 

I’m a liberal. Vente is a center liberal party.

What’s your plan for economic recovery?

First, leaving socialism behind. The rich state that owns everything and subordinates society. I believe in the opposite: the state must be a subsidiary of individual initiative, for you must open the market under clear rules and the rule of law, so everyone knows what to expect. If you don’t know the institutions or you don’t believe in them, you’ll never invest a cent, and without real investment you can’t have employment or an increase in the population’s income.

At the state level, you need common sense, transparency and discipline to eradicate the evil that bleeded Venezuela and other countries: inflation, which is the state stealing directly from society. 

With Venezuela’s geographical position and resources and in the current geopolitical context, I believe we have a great opportunity to turn the country into the power center for the Americas, developing our conventional and non-conventional energy sources. Our proximity to the logistical chains of the main Western economies gives us a chance to bring billions of dollars into the country.

Would you require economic aid from the IMF?

Venezuela is mortgaged and looted, so if we don’t achieve a sensible restructuring of all our debt, including both financial and labor debt, we should forget about reactivating our economy. For me, this has three pillars. One, a responsible plan of economic reactivation and transformation. Two, debt restructuring. And three, a massive and transparent privatization process, with the opportunity of swapping debt for investment, in order to recapitalize the country without inflation. 

No one will accept a restructuring process of such a magnitude, however, for a country so damaged by those shameless corrupt people, without the approval of the multilaterals. These agencies can help, if they see a credible offer of institutional reform in Venezuela, where a small state who serves the nation allows the country to thrive through decentralization and federalism.

Would you privatize PDVSA?

Of course we must privatize PDVSA. And also the basic industries in Guayana, the hotels, the telecom business. Ask someone who works in Corpoelec, PDVSA or SIDOR if they want to work at a private or a public company. People know that public companies are but just another means to get rich for those in power. It was like that before Chávez, but now it’s way worse, and public companies are black boxes sucking money and keeping their workers in poverty.

If we achieve free competition and transparency, you can go to bidding processes for many of these utilities and guarantee they cover the entire country with better services and better prices due to competition.

People are showing apathy or even hostility towards the representative system, which they feel isn’t solving their problems. How would you ensure, once in power, that Venezuelans trust the new democracy?

This is the paradox of liberals: we came to power to reduce that power and give it to the people. It’s about how to create incentives for those in power to serve—in the broader sense of the word—and, if they don’t, to count on clear ways to ensure political alternability. We need a big process of institutional strengthening and civil education. In the end, we need to create a wealthy society. Only a wealthy society is autonomous from the state. The state lives off what society gives it, but with clear lines. This is part of the transformation of the model of society we need to implement, in order to make it irreversible and avoid that another regime with totalitarian vocation could return.

Let’s suppose you win the primaries and later the presidential election, but the CNE declares Maduro the winner. What would be your strategy to defend the vote and stop fraud?

That work starts the day after the primaries until the day of the presidential election. That’s the crucial phase, where we need to fight. Some say, “those are the machines, this is the registry, it is what it is.” Wait, but aren’t you doing nothing between the primaries and the presidential election? That’s precisely when you need to apply force, with all the legitimacy that implies having sparked again the enthusiasm of a whole country, through the primaries. That’s the goal.

You are elected to fight, to change the conditions, not to say “it is what it is.” First, you fight. 

A new government will have to implement several institutional reforms. Do you support indefinite reelection?

All reelection must be banned.

How many years for presidential periods? 

Five years is reasonable, as before.

Would you keep the recall referendum? 

With no reelection, maybe there’s no need for a recall referendum. That’s the kind of thing we need to think through. In the end, the RR is an escape valve. But if we think of a semi-presidential system, where you can have a President and a Prime Minister, you can have valves for political crises, without having to go through a process that can be traumatic for society.

National Assembly or Bicameral Congress?

I’m sure a bicameral congress strengthens democracy and the legislative power, as well as check and balances and political debate.

Promotions in FANB must be approved by the President or the Congress?

Regarding the armed forces, we need a whole process of rethinking the strategic military concept, to have a military for a liberal republic subordinated to civil power. No doubt meritocracy must prevail, and promotions must be defined by the government with a final validation from the congress. 

Would you keep the right to vote for the military?

The important thing is to have non-partisan armed forces. They can vote, as long as they are free from party influence.

What’s your stance on decentralization? 

I believe in federalism, which goes way beyond. By design, we conceive society that way: the real power is close to people, at the municipal level. I think Venezuela needs more municipalities, not less.

What would you do with the Judicial Power?  

It must be rebuilt from the roots, completely transformed. I also think it is the axis of the institutional scaffold of a just, prosperous and free society.

Would you keep the five branches of the state? 

As long as the electoral board is really independent and properly staffed, it could be like before, not a branch of the state but a financially autonomous institution. Because, look at this contradiction: today, it’s an independent branch of the state, but its budget needs the Vice President’s approval. 

In favor or against the state financing the parties?

In favor, but with transparency. 

In favor or against gay marriage? 

In favor. 

In favor or against adoption by same-sex couples? 

In favor of children’s welfare. At Fundación Atenea I witnessed the drama of abandoned children. So we must privilege the children’s welfare, case by case.

In favor or against abortion? 

I have my convictions for religious reasons, and we need a national, rational debate. We must reach agreements for the cases where you can have an intervention if the life of the mother is on risk, or the baby suffered damage, or there was a rape. However, I would never impose my vision, in this case of religious nature, on society. I won’t. That would be the absolute opposite to what a liberal society deserves and demands.

In favor or against euthanasia? 

There are cases in which, if the patient really needs it, I’m in favor.

In favor or against legalizing marijuana? 

For medicinal use, it needs to be legalized.

In favor of legalizing harder drugs, like cocaine? 

Not in favor. But again, I understand there are different opinions, the impact of market forces and the history of prohibition of other substances in different countries, so that must be debated, never imposed by a political sector or religious belief. 

Nicolas Maduro?

Failure and evil.

Rafael Lacava?

Total lack of decorum. 

Juan Guaidó?

He had a chance and didn’t make it. 

Henrique Capriles?

The past.

Julio Borges?

Very far from here.

Leopoldo López?

He tried and failed. 

Antonio Ecarri?

Hanging out with Zapatero speaks for itself.

Lorenzo Mendoza?

A good businessman.

Benjamín Rausseo? 

He has given us many laughs.

Rómulo Betancourt? 

A visionary of democracy in Venezuela and Latin America.

Marcos Pérez Jiménez? 

A dictator.

Carlos Andrés Pérez? 

A great democrat.

Simón Bolívar? 

Audacious, stubborn, passionate and generous. 

Juan Vicente Gómez?

The liberal tyrant.

Hugo Chávez? 

The main culprit. 

How would you like to be remembered as a former president?Wow… I would want people to say “this woman was useful for our country, she served well, she contributed to making Venezuela a better country. And I hope one day my chamos, my children, will say “mom, it was worth it!”