Carlos Blanco, advisor to Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado: ‘The movement is willing to negotiate with the Maduro regime’

Blanco assures that without Machado’s participation, there will be no free elections in Venezuela

María Corina Machado
María Corina Machado in Venezuela, in January 2024, and Carlos Blanco, in an image from social media.Pedro Rances Mattey/dpa (Getty)

If María Corina Machado, the leader elected by the Venezuelan opposition in the last primary elections — and certainly the most popular politician in the country — listens to anyone, it is Carlos Blanco, as has been the case for the past 20 years. An economist and consultant, Blanco is an experienced politician with no political party affiliation. He served as a minister in the Carlos Andrés Pérez’s second government and has been a professor at the Central University of Venezuela and Boston University. He has directed media organizations, is the author of two books and is an incessant opinion columnist. He was one of the masterminds of the so-called decentralization process, the most recent effort undertaken by Venezuelan democracy to improve its management by federalizing public administration.

Since Machado entered the public eye in 2004, the two have forged a solid alliance. Blanco is one of the architects of the unique strategy that Machado has pursued in relation to the rest of the opposition. “We are witnessing the culmination of the worst nightmares we could have ever harbored regarding the fate and evolution of the Maduro regime,” he says. “His government is in a very complicated situation, but this circumstance has resulted in the expansion of repression.”

Question. Why is Maduro's situation complicated?

Answer. He has lost a lot of popular support. Maduro is not Chávez, he never had his leadership and talent. Many Chavistas have abandoned the regime; mid-level PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) members have also deserted. In addition, there is a severe international isolation. There is the international defeat regarding the failed referendum on Essequibo, which distanced them from the CARICOM-Caribbean Community; the silence of Cuba, Brazil and Colombia. The repressive wave began in December, and worsened after the exchange of prisoners that saw Alex Saab released from jail, whose last step is the imprisonment of Rocio San Miguel.

Q. Then came the decision to expel the United Nations representatives from the country.

A. This isolation has not diminished the repression, but it adds insult to injury to the scandal I have described.

Q. Does María Corina Machado have the tools to face a challenge like this?

A. The essential tool in our case is not changing horses in the middle of the river. The objective is to achieve free and honest elections. Chavismo always boasted of holding elections, mocking the opposition because “it had no people.” Now they are afraid of elections. The democratic forces have adopted the electoral demand. Secondly, Maduro always grumbled that the opposition does not want to negotiate, the radicals, the serious opposition. That is what we are asking Maduro for, dialogue.

Q. Are the talks still ongoing with these latest moves by Chavismo? Have the political stakeholders still not left the table?

A. There are a lot of tables here. There are several negotiation centers. What I can say is that the movement led by María Corina is willing to negotiate with the regime.

Q. You and Machado have always been reluctant to negotiate with Chavismo and to participate in elections on their terms. How are these circumstances different from those of the past?

A. The Venezuelan democratic movement was very optimistic with the emergence of Juan Guaidó and the interim presidency in 2019, which received enormous support from the international community. Thanks to the contradictions of those who led that process, that experience came to an end. The primaries were called to elect a new leader. Here we are witnessing a development from below, legitimized in a mass popular consultation.

Q. What would be the highlight of those primary elections?

A. The behavior of the citizens, the immense maturity of that initiative. Not a single police officer, not a single soldier, no security brigades, nothing. The citizens participated and understood what their duty was, there was not a single incident and everything went smoothly. Despite the huge adversities, there is an enormous public spirit in Venezuela.

Q. There are people who think Machado does not yet have the formal control of the opposition bodies, nor the collaboration of all its sectors.

A. I wouldn’t say that, I don’t think it is about control. It is about the internal currents of the democratic country, which are the absolute majority, recognizing her, and this has been occurring. Most of the political and social organizations of the opposition are working with her. We must provide content to the horizon of the Great National Alliance, beyond the classical approaches of the parties. This happens quite naturally in the regions of the country. The other element, which is fundamental, is the construction of the so-called 600k plan, the 600,000 citizens summoned to the campaign network for the defense of the vote, their preparation and training. Unity is not a starting point, it is an intermediate stop. We have some differences that were settled in the primaries, María Corina obtained 94% of the votes.

Q. Is the date of the presidential election not a central issue in this so far unadmitted candidacy?

A. Now Maduro is pretending to discuss this issue in the National Assembly. For the elections we are talking about, the legitimate ones, there are no dates. As soon as there are, everything will shift in the direction of his defeat.

Q. In other words, if María Corina Machado is a candidate, it is because there has been an internal split within Chavismo that makes it possible.

A. For a long time we have dealt with the impossibilities in the fight against Chavismo, and many impossibilities suddenly become possible. This is not a cliché. Situations that are so overwhelmingly dramatic make the political prognosis very complex. It happens in several fields of knowledge, but nowadays, in Venezuela, it is happening faster. What is happening today cannot be taken as a parameter of what is going to happen in the coming months. The ending of the ban and the free elections are the same thing. The Barbados agreement was signed on the basis of that reality. Five days after the agreement was signed, María Corina Machado was unanimously elected, to the surprise of the Chavista government. She is the custodian of a sacred popular mandate. If she is not the candidate, the elections are not free.

Q. Does this mean that a delegated, alternate candidacy, an option like that of the state of Barinas in 2021, is not viable for you?

A. No, that does not exist. María Corina did not win her candidacy by drawing from a box of soaps. The option for her to renounce her candidacy is not acceptable. It is a decision whereby she can dispose, as if it were anything else, of a popular mandate that was assigned to her by a huge majority.

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