The co-founder and former president of the all-volunteer electoral watchdog group Súmate in Venezuela, María Corina Machado, was charged with conspiracy by the Hugo Chávez government for receiving US administration funding. A champion of civil society development and community participation, Machado believes the opposition candidate Enrique Capriles can unseat Chávez in the October presidential elections.
Question. Why did you enter politics?
Answer. I have to start by saying that I'm an engineer. My postgraduate degree is in corporate finance. I actually never imagined myself as a public servant and even less as a member of the parliament. But the Venezuelan situation has turned so critical. In 2002, I realized we had to find a way in which we could peacefully channel the growing social tensions that were happening in my country. So we decided to stop warring and start acting as citizens. And a group of friends, mostly engineers, decided to create an organization whose approach was from a more managerial and more technical perspective. We never imagined that an organization promoted by five engineers could, in less than a year, turn into an organization with more than 50,000 volunteers throughout the whole country.
Q. What role has Súmate played in this?
A. After the referendum, we realized that citizen participation was critical and that we needed to strengthen that responsibility on the citizen's side. Súmate started working as an electoral watchdog, and that was a long way of understanding how important it is to build democracy every single day, to understand our rights and duties and to exercise them. After many years in this process, I started realizing that unless you have a responsible government, all these efforts won't produce a better country, a better nation, so I myself thought about the possibility of serving, how to make government more responsible from the government's perspective.
Q. Do you think that President Chávez is a long-term danger to Venezuela's democracy?
A. He has been profoundly misunderstood in terms of what his model represents. I read not long ago in The New York Times an article saying that "Chavez is a nuisance but he's not a threat" so why bother? But the fact is, putting aside the huge destruction and pain that Venezuelan society is suffering in the name of social justice, in the name of inclusiveness, a democratic society has been destroyed and an authoritarian regime is being imposed. A government that has no governability, that cannot enforce law and order within its borders, that also promotes and supports certain kinds of groups and activities throughout the region is a problem. It's a big problem for the rest of the region - not only for Venezuela - and that means also for the US. I have to insist, though, that I am absolutely convinced Venezuelan problems have to be solved by Venezuelans.