Corina Yoris: 'We Cannot Derail from the Electoral Route'

Meet Maduro’s latest headache: the suddenly famous university professor who the opposition coalition has backed to fill for politically banned Maria Corina Machado in the Venezuelan presidential elections

In the blink of an eye, Corina Yoris—a university professor with PhDs in History and Philosophy, former president of the Venezuelan Society of Philosophy, and member of the opposition’s National Commission of Primaries—became the most searched Venezuelan in Google. 

Recognized until then only among Venezuelan literature students and academics, 80-year-old Yoris appeared on Friday along with her namesake, the winner of the opposition primaries María Corina Machado, to replace her as the representative of the opposition bloc since Machado was banned from running for office in an irregular process in 2023. 

However, despite the unanimous support of Machado and the parties of the Unitary Platform, the professor has not been able to register her candidacy: access to the National Electoral Council (CNE) system for the MUD and Un Nuevo Tiempo cards remains blocked a few hours before the deadline to register candidates for the July 28 presidential election, while Chavismo is feeding a baseless hoax accusing her of being Uruguayan. 

But Yoris, with playful humor in the midst of the race against time, welcomes us dressed in turquoise and with a fan to talk to us about her German shepherd and her collection of owl figurines—they are symbols of wisdom because “they see in the dark,” she tells us—before entering into the murky issues of an uphill candidacy.

I’m going to start with a somewhat personal question: what motivates you to do this? Aren’t you afraid?

I’m not usually afraid. I would like to put it that way. Because there are people who believe that one has no fears. Yes, at some point one can be afraid. But the way we react to fear is usually different from person to person. And I usually use fear more as an impulse to face the situation which is producing that feeling and master that situation. We have been living in a terrible situation for 25 years and we each must do our part to help. Four years ago, more or less, I was giving a lecture at the Comillas [Pontifical] University in Spain. And when we left the conference, we were in the university cafeteria. One of the teachers told me, “If the situation in the country is so serious, so severe, why don’t you stay in Spain?” And I told him: “since we have talked about [Miguel de] Unamuno in several of the conferences” and one of his great phrases is that Spain hurts him, “let’s paraphrase Unamuno: Venezuela hurts me. And since Venezuela hurts me, I’m staying in Venezuela.” I’m giving Venezuela what Venezuela has given me. Venezuela allowed me to live, grow and educate myself in freedom. It allowed me to educate my children in freedom. It allowed my students to also feel freedom, including academic freedom and autonomy. No one ever told me: “you have to teach this or that thing.” So, I want to give back to Venezuela what Venezuela is: that freedom. Because you cannot achieve democracy without the use of freedom. They are two concepts that are linked to each other.

You mention academic freedom. You are probably the most academic candidate ever in the history of Venezuela… perhaps you and José María Vargas. Do you see your candidacy as a vindication of a profession as respected, but so battered, as teachers in Venezuela and the educational sector in general?

Well, that makes me feel very proud. Because the fact that we can exercise power, exercise democracy in a country, and that it is represented by that group that has been—as you say—mercilessly beaten, fills me with a lot of pride but it is a deep commitment. Recognizing the academic group seems fabulous to me, because it is not that I am going to place more emphasis on one sector than another. No, I believe that the salvation of a country lies in the salvation of culture, what identifies us as a country. 

Speaking of training, you have a long history of educating young people in Venezuela, in different universities, but the interesting thing is that your candidacy has been a phenomenon on social media with young people. There are memes, there is the #CorinaChallenge, there is the “súbete a la corineta” slogan. What do you think of this impact it has had on the digital culture of young people?

That makes me very excited. Some of the memes have brought tears to my eyes. It’s impressive. One of my students said on TikTok “Do you know who Corina Yoris is? The media has dedicated themselves to talking about her resume. I am going to talk about her as a student of hers.” God, what a beautiful thing. I even see photographs with a [presidential] band, one that they have just shown me with the outfit of the country’s liberators, in the figure of superheroes… It is something incredible. So, there is recognition, which has to do with my work as a professor over so many years, and it makes me see that these kids are with me. It makes me laugh when people say that I’m unknown… you have to see what they [the young] are doing, the social media, and what people are telling you, even abroad. I have received messages from people in Australia, people I know and people I don’t know. So, it seems to me that this is a sample of what we are talking about, of the unity that we are representing. The thing is that this is not Corina and that’s it, we are representing a feeling of a country inside and outside of this geographical space.

How do you identify yourself ideologically, politically?

I have never had partisan militancy. I believe in democracy and I believe in freedom. You can’t talk about one thing without another. A person is defined by dignity. And dignity is associated with two very important elements: freedom and autonomy, the sources of personal and social rights, and the fundamentals of democracy. Without freedom you cannot talk about democracy. So, I don’t want someone to put me into a label, because I believe that in that sense I can agree with a current and agree with another current without it sounding contradictory. Because I am thinking of the human being as the person who possesses freedom.

Corina Yoris, the Venezuelan opposition’s new candidate (Caracas Chronicles/El Estímulo/Alejandro Cremades)

This is a largely liberal and humanist approach. Do you also consider yourself economically liberal? Do you sympathize with the same ideas as María Corina Machado, for example?

Yes, yes, yes.

Should PDVSA be privatized?

Well, I think that will be up to those who are within the [government] programs. I want to be very insistent on something, which is the separation of powers. We in Venezuela have been working with a very wrong idea of the executive power. We have been extremely presidential. And here we must respect the separation of the judicial power, the legislative power, the executive power, in such a way that everyone plays their role. And there are things and decisions that must be made based on the entire conglomerate that forms the State that is represented by the various forces. Not just with what we call a single line. Alongside Guillermo Tell Aveledo, I was the writer of the minimum government program that all the candidates of the primaries signed. We are trying to reconcile various positions. Here we have a diversity of positions, and we have to represent all of them. And hear and respect dissent. Because democracy is based more on dissent than consensus.

And based on that, how does the issue of decisions work around your candidacy and with all sectors of the unitary platform?

It was unanimous. My appointment was unanimous. I must respond to that trust placed in those parties. That was a decision agreed upon and approved by all parties. That is very important because many people pointed out parties that were going to break the unity and those parties did not break the unity. Today, it’s not that I’m María Corina Machado’s candidate. I am the unitary candidate. This is very important. María Corina passed the baton to me.

Then, are you thinking of a transitional government or a full six-year government?

I believe it’s a transitional government. And the transition has some moments. There is the moment of liberation of the country, from the authoritarian regime, which does not necessarily have to be violent, far from it, and it is what we are doing through a democratic electoral system, through something that allows us opportunities. And then comes something called the transition, a tremendously difficult moment because you have several things that continue to work against what is coming. Then comes the part of consolidating democracy. And we must be very clear about that, because in practice the elements that you were not expecting [outside the theory] begin to emerge. And that is where unity works and what I have repeated ad nauseam: If we do not represent a government where there is separation of powers, we are not achieving anything.

Once you finish this re-institutionalization process, would you call elections?

Of course.

In what role or in what position do you see Chavismo that day after, in that transition period?

Chavismo should play its role in democracy. The bases of Chavismo have always believed in democracy. The thing is they believe in collectivism, and we believe in the individual. Let’s say it in that way, which is unfair because we are putting it in categories that are too imprecise in their limits. Well, if they are willing to live in democracy, they will exercise their role as opposition, following democracy’s rules.

And in what role do you see Machado in your campaign and in your government?

She must be the leader. If her ban is lifted, I will pass on the baton again. Because she is the leader right now. We cannot forget that. I want to emphasize her act of greatness by delegating the candidacy after consulting with many parties and agreeing on it. No one has taken her leading role away from her. What’s more, we have the same name… entre Corinas te ves.

But the MUD and Un Nuevo Tiempo have not been allowed to register anyone or access the CNE system. It seems that the government, due to a political decision, does not want you to register. If that does not happen, has another representative of the candidacy been contemplated?

That would be breaking unity. We continue to think about unity. It’s just that it’s not me who is being prevented from being registered. The problem is that they don’t let you use the parties or the alliance cards on the voting list. You cannot register either. So, we cannot raise this idea at the moment. We have to continue with our north, which is unity. It seems like it’s a slogan, but it’s what’s describing the moment. It is true that they are denying my right, but they are denying it to me and to anyone. 

There has been talk that the government only wants to allow access to a “potable candidate.” Would the opposition take that path?

That’s a rumor on social media. Which may be as false as what they have invented about me.

Are you considering a Plan C of registering with the Fuerza Vecinal card?

You should think about Fuerza Vecinal offering the possibility. As far as I know, I have not been told that Fuerza Vecinal is offering that. I had a teacher very dear to me who said: “I don’t speak in assumptions, I speak with categorical propositions.” That’s an assumption. If it is a fact, it is something else, then I would respond based on what the unity proposes. 

And if you cannot register yourself or use the cards to register anyone, is abstention being considered as an option?

That’s already part of another step, but we can’t be the ones derailing from the electoral route. Those who are leaving the electoral route and are not complying with the agreements are them, not us. They are the ones who have something to prove, not us. We cannot fall into the traps that they throw: “It is your turn to take the step. I’m on the line.” We have been in compliance with the agreements and I’m going to say it again: we’ve complied to the last letter with the agreements that were signed to reach the elections. They are who haven’t fulfilled them.

So, abstention is out of the equation.

We cannot think that we’re going to leave the electoral route. Now, if within a week or another there’s an eruption in the Ávila, because the Ávila begins to throw stones, a situation arises that we cannot control because it’s a natural phenomenon. Then, you also must wait for things to happen. This is not improvisation, but keeping strategies close to the chest.

This piece has been published per an alliance with El Estímulo. Read the article in Spanish here.

Tony Frangie Mawad

Tony (1997) is one of Caracas Chronicles' editors, where he writes since 2016. He graduated in Journalism and Political Science from Boston University in 2021. Since then, he has written at Bloomberg, The Economist, Politico and others.