María Corina Machado is back at the forefront of Venezuelan politics after the government accused her of planning to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro. State officials on Wednesday presented email messages in which Machado allegedly promised to do everything possible to “obtain the funds and annihilate Maduro.”
She allegedly wrote: “We need to clean up this rubbish, starting at the top, by taking advantage of the global climate with Ukraine and now Thailand.”
Machado denies writing those emails and has filed a suit against the government employees who have accused her of the plot. The battle has only begun.
The former presidential hopeful is one of the most active spokespersons for the Venezuelan cause abroad. The Chavist government wants to find a way to keep her from traveling overseas and thereby avoid the spread of unofficial accounts of the four-month internal conflict between Maduro and opposition leaders.
Question. Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that everyone accused of taking part in the plot to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro will be investigated. And, to justify the seizure of the email accounts that were shown yesterday at the press conference, Ortega Díaz said there had been a court order against you since March 19. A judge allegedly gave the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebín) permission for wiretap surveillance of your accounts. Does that diligence not show that the government was acting according to the law when it intercepted those email accounts?
Answer. I was not made aware of that investigation so that is a violation of due process. Moreover, at that time I was still a member of Parliament. [Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly speaker called for Machado’s removal. She was ousted from her seat in April.] They should have filed a petition for a pretrial hearing against me at the Supreme Court and then, if the charges were found to have merit, they should have taken away my parliamentary immunity. But, that is only if the investigation was real. The Public Ministry is withholding the official reports and the evidence when they should be handled by the Prosecutor General. So, how can Mayor Rodríguez show them at a press conference? This shows that all the branches of government are conspiring to persecute me.
Q. At the press conference, they showed the emails and your telephone number. What has happened since then?
A. I have lost count of the phone calls I have received from people who insulted me. The phone doesn’t stop ringing. This, besides an invasion of privacy, has even gone as far as death threats against me and my family. I will ask for a legal investigation.
Q. The opposition says the Prosecutor General’s Office defends the interests of the president. If that is the case, why file a complaint against the administration?
A. There will be no ruling against the government. I am clear on that. There has not been a Supreme Court ruling against the president in all of these years. But, we have to leave evidence of the abuses and exhaust our legal system so that we can then appeal to international organizations. And, secondly, because one day justice will be served. We are fighting so that this situation that exempts perpetrators does not happen again in Venezuela. The Prosecutor General herself has said that 94 percent of crimes committed in this country go unpunished. That is the kind of justice system we have today.
Q. How do you explain the fact that the government got hold of the evidence?
A. The Prosecutor General herself confessed in that press conference on Thursday. A journalist asked her and she said something that is very serious. She said it was not her office but rather the Sebín who gave the evidence to the mayor of Caracas. That is a scandal. When the chain of evidence has been broken, a legal proceeding may be annulled. But that’s not the most important part. We all know they wrote those emails. I stopped using one of those accounts in April 2013 after it was hacked and photos from my private life were published. I have asked for an expert to review the account and verify what I am saying. I said so on Wednesday. I am not hiding anything. Those of us who have been marching to call for an end to this situation have been upfront. The Venezuelan Constitution provides mechanisms that would allow this government to resign before 2019. Some people here think that nothing can be done and others are convinced that we urgently need to make a change through democratic means. La Salida is a movement that calls for Maduro’s resignation. We should be able to offer a path to democracy that includes a Constituent National Assembly. The two goals are not mutually exclusive.
Q. When you were on the official shortlist for presidential candidates you did not support using the Constituent National Assembly to rebuild the government. Why have you changed your mind?
A. A large segment of the country identified with Hugo Chávez and now they must evolve through political structures that allow them to live side by side with other ideologies so that we can all come together to renew our society. The country is asking for profound changes. No assassination or coup. Maduro has to resign and allow a peaceful transition to democracy. Maduro insists on imposing a totalitarian regime based on the Havana model that allows the Castros to stay in power. And he wants to hold it together with funds from Venezuelan oil sales.
Q. The Prosecutor General also said the government could forbid those under investigation from leaving the country. You are perhaps the opposition leader who has traveled the most throughout the Americas and Europe to denounce what you feel is happening in Venezuela. These visits have elicited specific reactions from the international community – some countries condemn or seek ways to impose sanctions on Venezuela. How would a court order that prevents you from leaving the country affect the opposition’s strategy?
A. In that case, there would have to be a trial and I would have to be convicted.
Q. The judge could also order you to remain in the country during the trial.
A. I have proved that I do not wish to leave the country. When Mayor Rodríguez accused me, he said I was in Panama and that I was going to the United States. I was over there 70 days ago. And, yes, it’s true. I had a meeting in Panama on Thursday. But, I cancelled it to file a formal complaint against the government. That would be an unjustifiable measure but anything can happen here.
Q. Leopoldo López has been in prison for more than three months and you are under investigation. Has the La Salida movement lost its leadership?
A. On the contrary. Thousands of leaders have risen. The February marches were criticized for their lack of hierarchy and for their autonomous character, which they said made them anarchistic. Far from being a weakness, that is a source of strength. There is no central body coordinating the protests. They are a reaction from Venezuelans who are united for many different reasons. University students who feel they have no future in Venezuela, the youths who are sick of the violence and crime. The organizational model and means of resistance this movement uses are unprecedented. Society at large has joined in. There are hundreds of organizations of various sizes – young people, women, neighbors, citizen assemblies. Now these groups have to express themselves. If they destroy some of us, others will take our place.
Q. You have said in many interviews that you are obsessed with destroying the Chavist movement. After so many years of fighting and failing, have you thought of exploring or plotting – as the government says – another means besides elections?
A. My answer is no assassination or coup. Maduro has to resign. Many people are starving in Venezuela. You need at least three salaries to buy food. Add to that the fact that many jobs have been lost because they destroyed the private sector. The country cannot take it any more. If the civil sector cannot pave a democratic path forward, the answer may come from elsewhere. And, we will stand guilty of not having given the country another option.
Q. Is there any other way besides elections? That is what the government denounces.
A. There could be a coup d’état from within the government. Venezuela is a mafia country with various factions fighting over power.
Q. How do you feel about the reactions from the moderates in the opposition who do not agree with La Salida?
A. I haven’t stopped receiving calls of support from all over the country. From student leaders, representatives. I haven’t been able to thank them all. Unity within the opposition is essential and it should transcend all party lines. It’s important that the Democratic Unity Roundtable embraces different options. This is not a political debate. It is an existential battle.
Q. United States Assistant Secretary for Latin America Roberta Jacobson said it was not the right time to sanction Venezuela. She was referring to the measure passed in the House of Representatives to sanction government workers who violate human rights. What do you think?
A. No sensible person would propose sanctions against a country that is facing this kind of economic situation. They are considering sanctions against individuals who have cruelly violated human rights so that they cannot exploit the democratic system. This measure would serve as a deterrent because it would raise the political cost on the repressors. But beyond that, it is up to us Venezuelans to watch over the rights enshrined in our Constitution.
Translation: Dyane Jean François