María Corina Machado is the national coordinator of the liberal opposition party VENTE Venezuela as well as a well-known human rights activist. She served as a Member of Parliament between 2010 and 2015, being elected with the highest number of votes of all the candidates.
MARÍA CORINA MACHADO – VENEZUELA
“In the struggle for freedom, the defence of human rights is intrinsic”
What motivates you to fight for democratic change in Venezuela? Where do you draw your strength and energy from? My deep love for my country and for freedom motivates me to work for the transformation of Venezuela into a democracy. Additionally, I am driven by the awareness that the Venezuelan people are facing a tragic situation that needs to change. The regime has abolished all freedoms: it has abolished any guarantees of human security and has taken away our ability to decide on our own way of life, both on a political level, and on a personal level. What are the most serious human rights issues that urgently need to be addressed in Venezuela? Every day, the rights to life, liberty and property are violated in Venezuela. The right to well-being is denied: food, housing, medical care, clothing and other basic social services; the rights to education and free development are routinely violated. The same applies to labour rights and civil and political rights, which continue to be repressed. There is a scheme of institutional violence, systematic persecution and repression aimed at controlling and silencing all citizens. This can be seen in the sad number of more than 300 political prisoners and the almost 500 extrajudicial executions carried out by the police, military and criminal organs of the incumbent President Maduro in the first three months of 2021 alone. Furthermore, there are 189 documented violations of freedom of expression and 384 persecutions registered between January and May.
By Agoes Jumianto for this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS IN ASEAN - The Cartoonists Perspective Exhibition
How do you defend human rights on the ground? What do you consider most important in order to improve the situation? We have built networks of citizens in Venezuela to make visible and denounce these abuses and tyranny. Together with VENTE - our liberal political opposition party - we have founded a human rights committee. It documents and follows up on all reports of human rights violations, with special attention paid to violations of civil and political rights and crimes against humanity. This is done through constant monitoring of the situation, documentation, and dissemination of information about these abuses. In addition, we have established relationships with human rights organizations inside and outside of Venezuela, which accompany victims and also bring cases before international institutions. Our goal is to put pressure on the regime – which has completely abolished the rule of law – and thereby make impunity impossible for those who commit these acts. You and your family have been directly attacked as a result of your struggle for democratic change in Venezuela. Which situations or decisions had the greatest personal consequences? From day one, I have dealt with the regime that gradually violated laws, dismantled democratic institutions, began to divide society and stigmatize and attack those who denounced these abuses. Right from the start, I was threatened, and confronted with direct attacks in the media against me and my family as well as against organizations and companies associated with some of my relatives. However, the greatest and gravest consequence were the threats against my children, who were exposed in the media and whose lives were put in danger. This is why I eventually had to send them away and out of the country. For months there was a danger that security forces of the regime would arrest me or storm our house. Later, the Venezuelan regime banned me from leaving the country and imposed a travel ban on me - first between 2004-2007 and again since 2014. They also try to restrict my freedom of movement within the country by banning commercial airlines in Venezuela from selling me tickets. Finally, no media in Venezuela would interview or report on me due to the potential consequences they have to fear and the massive censorship. What indirect or direct threats or attempts at intimidation are you experiencing today? Everyone who resolutely opposes the regime, refuses to cooperate and thus does not give in to the pressure and threats, faces direct and indirect attacks. For example, the spokespersons of the regime use our first and last names and call for us to be attacked, arrested or harmed. When I travel around the country, I am constantly followed and my team has repeatedly been physically attacked by the political police, the military police, the irregular groups of the armed collectives, and criminal gangs financed by the regime. The Human Rights Committee of our organisation has sent reports to international organizations listing some of the threats and aggressions. Thus, until 2019, more than 25 direct attacks and about 50 acts have been registered against members of our organisation, ranging from violations of freedom of movement, dismissals for political reasons, harassment, to cases of violent attacks, arbitrary arrests and even torture against a member. Women also face public hostility for being women. To what extent have you experienced this dual hostility as a politician and as a woman? The regime has sought increasingly sophisticated ways to attack women. For example, women who are fanatical supporters of the regime are hired to carry out attacks. It is dramatic and outrageous to see how the regime instrumentalizes women, who are often in dire and desperate economic situations, to carry out these reprehensible acts. What forms of hate speech and verbal hostility are you exposed to online? And how do you defend yourself against them? The regime has built surveillance mechanisms to destroy people's reputations. Private communications are infiltrated, for example, phone calls between my mother and me were published and taken out of context, or emails were altered and manipulated. All this information is spread through public media and social networks. Of course, this also has a personal impact, because my children or people close to them also see these messages, suffer from them and are scared. Additionally, our party's website is constantly attacked by hackers and hate speech and verbal hostility also extends to any members or supporters of our organisation. Human rights defenders are not a separate professional group, they are distinguished by their actions. What activities make you a human rights defender? In the struggle for freedom, the defence of human rights is intrinsic and is required every single day. In a country like Venezuela, where human rights are not respected, there are no small or large actions in defence of human rights. Anything that contributes to ending the systematic human rights violations and is aimed at ending the impunity of those responsible, achieving justice, making reparations to the victims, is an important achievement to restore the rule of law. We must listen to those who have been victims of human rights violations and provide them a space to denounce the horrors they face. But if I had to highlight one thing as the greatest achievement, I would cite the creation and coordination of an organization like VENTE Venezuela, which works to build a country where the fundamental rights of all citizens are secured. Through our work, a complaint file has been developed for "human rights violations against our members," which has been included in the report of the Panel of Independent Experts of the Organisation for American States (OAS) and contributes to the evidence base for Venezuela's case before the International Criminal Court. For whom are you particularly advocating? For whom do you speak? I have had the opportunity to speak before various international organisations and bodies, such as the Organisation of American States, the United Nations, or the European Parliament. Precisely because I did this so intensively for many years, the regime banned me from leaving the country. I speak in the name of every Venezuelan whose rights are being violated. In the name of mothers and fathers who have no way to feed their children and whose savings have been taken away. In the name of producers whose property has been expropriated, journalists who have been silenced, workers whose dignity and freedom of work have been extinguished, and every Venezuelan who loves freedom and who is willing to continue fighting until we build a nation with very solid republican, ethical and liberal pillars. Venezuela is currently experiencing a serious human rights crisis. How can the Venezuelan people support the struggle to improve this situation? The most important thing that all Venezuelans must be clear about is that it is about their rights: the right to life, the right to security, the right to property, the right to expression, and the right to choose the Venezuela and the nation in which we want to live. Today, we Venezuelans are aware – despite all the repression and suffering – that the future of our country, of millions of Venezuelans not yet born, depends on us, on what we do or what we no longer do in these hours.