- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Maria Corina Machado, one of Venezuela’s best-known opposition figures, rose to prominence as an organizer of a failed 2004 recall referendum against then-President Hugo Chavez.

A year later, she infuriated the leftist firebrand when she met with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office, a move Chavez’s foreign minister dubbed the launch of “Machado’s U.S.-backed presidential candidacy.”

Almost 14 years later, the 51-year-old leader of the center-right Vente Venezuela party is in the thick of the fight against Chavez’s socialist protege and successor, President Nicolas Maduro, amid talk she may be eyeing a run for the presidency.

Question: Common Venezuelans have been hearing [anti-American] propaganda for 20 years. Will they hear the message that the United States is coming to help — and not to steal [Venezuela’s] oil?

Ms. Machado: Don’t ask me … go to [the working-class neighborhoods of] Miraflores, Catia, and yell “Maduro!” to see what you’re told. If there’s something the Cuban and “Chavista” propaganda can’t overcome, it’s hunger and misery and violence — a disintegrating society.

Q: In practical terms, what’s it like to live this moment as a citizen and political leader?

Ms. Machado: I haven’t been able to leave the country for five years. For almost 3 1/2 years, they haven’t allowed me take a plane; they tell the airlines that if they sell me a plane ticket, they’ll lose their license. So I can’t help but move about by ground transport. … They expropriated all companies in which my family, my father had any stake. That was my father’s life, and work for 9,000 individuals. They finished it all off, everything.

Q: Talk to me about [interim President] Juan Guaido. What does he represent?

Ms. Machado: Today, he represents what Venezuela stands for, a Venezuela that doesn’t give up, that takes up its responsibility with courage before history. That’s why he has the backing of Venezuelans, the vast majority who understand that we won’t let this opportunity pass and won’t turn back. In these crucial hours, there was much pressure on him not to take up his responsibility. [But] as president of the National Assembly he didn’t have any option but to take office as interim president of Venezuela, and he did, and you have to appreciate that. … And I told him, ‘Juan, count on me and all Venezuelans on this route of courage.’”

Q: What would you tell Donald Trump? What does the Trump administration need to understand today about Venezuela?

Ms. Machado: There’s no turning around. And that’s what President Trump said last Monday. That’s the message. This is not just about the deaths of millions of Venezuelans. It’s a matter of national security for Americans, in the United States.”

Q: And what would you tell Nicolas Maduro?

Ms. Machado: You’re leaving, for your own good. It’s over.

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