Hasta el final: How María Corina’s Mutation Overturned Venezuelan Politics

María Corina Machado's ability to adapt has turned opposition politics on its head and has subverted the meaning of elections in Venezuela: Can she turn that movement into something more after July 28th?

“Don’t ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.” –Michel Foucault

The images of the enormous rallies by Maria Corina Machado in Sabana de Mendoza, Trujillo – similar to the also huge ones in rural Portuguesa – have left many stunned.

It’s not just that: the fragment of her speech in Sabana de Mendoza where she speaks in a language that borders on radical democracy was received by many with enormous displeasure, some comparing her to Hugo Chávez, as if the idea that “the people are the ones that command” was not the very definition of democracy from ancient Athens to modern struggles for universal suffrage.

We can speculate about the sources of such a distaste. Some find the similarities with Chávez in 1998 disturbing. Others don’t seem to think that democratic rhetoric is inseparable from demagogy. There’s also the people who remain phobic towards the poor –and democracy as such– , which has always existed in sectors of the Venezuelan opposition, always well-nested in their comfort zone among the middle class of the big cities and sure that their fantasies about elite pacts are democratic convictions.

This is precisely what makes the political mutation of María Corina Machado so fascinating. For years, she represented the most recalcitrant of the Caracas upper and middle classes, while her defense of Likud Zionism, her affinity with Donald Trump and her closeness with hard-right parties like Vox were on the verge of making her unpresentable for most of the public.

But in a dramatic turn worthy of an HBO series, she went from calling for a liberating invasion in 2019 to becoming a leader of the masses in 2024 with her slogan “hasta el final” (until the end). 

By doing so, Machado achieved five feats. First, she brought out of its lethargy an “opposition” convinced that cohabitation and even obedience were not only the only possible policy, but also the morally correct one. Second, she defeated the entire “trans-Chavista” establishment created by the government and its maneuver to unify the opposition around a false and remote-controlled candidacy. Third, with the slogan “hasta el final,” she broke with the shortsightedness of the Venezuelan oppositions whose mobilizer is not the desire for change but the expectation of easy change in the very short term. Fourth, she “hacked” Venezuelan electoralism by carrying out a technically illegal electoral campaign that has dimensions of civil resistance and a mobilization whose very idea horrifies sectors of the majority opposition, even within the Unitary Platform itself. Fifth, it mobilized those excluded from the country: poor women and rural and semi-rural populations who have been experiencing the disaster long before the big cities – in a sense, forever.

Lost in the analogy with the Chávez phenomenon – the miraculous rise of the democratic Caesar,  our national Lisan al-Gaib– many forget that it is precisely social inequality and the lack of platforms for political participation that make these caudillo contagions possible: with a very limited political culture that knows nothing more than the electoral campaign, reduces democracy to the vote and worships the party, Venezuelan society would hardly have been able to mobilize for anything other than a candidate.

Elections, which are the only form of democracy that Venezuelans understand, have long become not only a way of extracting consensus and legitimacy, but also a tool of social control and clientelism, as happened with Chávez and even Acción Democrática. Today, however, when elections are banned and falsified by a government that cannot win them, they have suddenly become an almost subversive idea.

That is the most surprising twist in the current situation: the revelation not of the power of the vote, which does not exist in an autocratic regime, but of a desire for profound –existential– change through the demand for free elections and personified in a candidate who is not a candidate and who, in turn, is represented by another candidate whose repose contrasts and counterbalances the frenetic activity of the emerging leader. Ying and Yang.

Thus, the incredible mutation of María Corina Machado in recent months raises two questions. First: given that it is difficult for Nicolás Maduro to exchange his absolute power for a “congressional title for life,” like Augusto Pinochet in 1990, will Machado be able to achieve what leaders like Henrique Capriles did not: to lead after the electoral campaign, even in the midst of hopelessness? 

This leads us to a very complicated situation for the government. It is about whether Machado will surprise us again by learning to navigate a situation that, depending on what will happen, will look more like that of the Philippines after the fraud of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 –which led to his regime’s collapse– or that of Nicaragua after the imposition of Daniel Ortega in 2021 and if her followers will continue to support her even if the end becomes distant and complicated.

The second question is this: assuming that the now fabulous “transition” occurred, would Machado be a temporary figure, entirely linked to a transition period, like Violeta Chamorro or Corazón Aquino or could she have, like the old Puntofijista politicians, a more lasting impact on Venezuelan politics?

This has to do with the long term and has to do with the anachronistic vision that she seems to have of the world, defending a nostalgic Thatcherism that sometimes recalls that of Javier Milei. Will Machado be able to understand the expiration of the schools of thought of the last century and the absolute singularity of the Venezuelan situation, which more than any other will need unprecedented institutions and policies and policies that are inventors and not simple managers? That is to say: is Machado capable of reinventing herself again –not when she travels through savannahs and páramos– but in the comfort of the offices and halls of political power, where it is so easy to deceive oneself, as do those who did not expect her to arrive as far as she did? Enigmas.

In any case, as far as Machado’s mutation goes –almost the only Venezuelan politician that at this point seems capable of evolving – the truth is that if the mobilizing factor continues to be an expectation of immediate change and not the deep desire to change the situation and changing life, we will probably repeat the manic-depressive cycle of previous occasions.

On the way to el final, we must ask ourselves: Are these enormous demonstrations in la Venezuela profunda– these static demonstrations of hope and pain, which occur so far away from the mirages, pettiness and submissions of Twitterzuela– a sign of something more than a passing illusion? Do they mean that people are also willing to go hasta el final?

We don’t know that and perhaps not even those who have attended them know it yet.