Maria Corina Machado Recording Reveals Opposition Strategies and Divisions

David Smilde

Venezuela’s political field was once again upset by release of an audiotape revealing confidential behind-the-scenes gossip. This time it was opposition National Assembly Deputy and former presidential hopeful Maria Corina Machado who was taped conversing with Venezuelan scholar Germán Carrera Damas at his home. Here as with the Mario Silva tape released in May, there is little that will surprise close observers. But making public knowledge what was an open secret is itself an important political occurrence. (Listen to tape or read transcript here)

Machado has acknowledged that the tape is authentic but says it has been edited. This is apparently 10 minutes of what was a two hour conversation.

The most significant, eyebrow raising part of the audio is when Machado describes what Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, the chairman of the opposition umbrella group Mesa de la Unidad Democratica said to the US State Department. Aveledo visited Washington and met with Undersecretary for Latin American Affairs Roberta Jacobsen last week (although note that Machado does not actually say that Avelado told the State Department this while in Washington). She said,

“I found out that Ramon Guillermo Aveledo told the State Department that the only way to resolve this (salir de esto) is by provoking and accentuating a crisis, a coup or a self-coup. Or a process of tightening the screws and domesticating to generate a system of total social control.”

The first sentence is very damning, suggesting that the opposition is doing just what the government has been accusing it of: trying to destabilize the country to the point that there is a break in democratic institutions. This should provide some context for the government’s continual accusations of conspiracies against it. Some of these conspiracy theories might be a little fantastic but they are inspired by some fundamental truths revealed in this tape.

First, important sectors of the opposition see the generation of crisis as the primary tool for defeating Chavismo. As I have suggested before, they have made great strides with this tactic since the contested election and it is not surprising that they would continue on this line.

Second, they seek to gain international support from countries that might support their cause. In another part of the tape Machado says “We have to raise the political costs for these vagabonds [the Maduro government], beginning with the gringos and followed by the Colombians, the Brazilians—well they take the prize, the Nobel, the Oscar.”

This strategy should not surprise. In any given context, political actors use their international allies to strengthen their internal position. Capriles’ visit to Colombia to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos clearly had this intention, as well as his attempt to visit Mexico and plans to visit the US. Maduro, in turn, has traveled to the Southern Cone countries to demonstrate international support for his legitimacy. In the last phrase Machado is apparently making reference to the Brazilian government’s support for the Maduro government which many in the opposition regard as hypocritical.

Aveledo’s statements could cause him legal troubles and could complicate US Venezuelan relations. Mayor of Caracas Jorge Rodriguez, who presented the tape, suggested that asking for foreign intervention is treason, and also suggested that if Aveledo really did say these things, the State Department should have informed the Venezuelan government.

The tape also reveals serious divisions within the opposition regarding strategy. The tape begins with Machado expressing her disappointment that Capriles called off the April 17 march to downtown Caracas, as well as Aveledo’s praise for the meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“It could not have been more inopportune. I feel indignant. I should have gone earlier to the State Department, I should have gone…We should have done other things. You have to sit down with key actors, taking them key information so that the Congress reacts! I mean how can it be that what is happening in Venezuela is happening and people don’t find out because the State Department does not think it is important. They [the MUD] are very fearful that I am going to go and meet with the State Department, with senators or with other people that have the capacity to influence, and put forward a position that is radical, as they call me, of non-dialogue and non-electoral confrontations.”

Machado is lamenting that she did not act earlier to prevent a rapprochement between the US and Venezeula, and suggests that the MUD is fearful that she will act independently with her more radical line. But perhaps most damning of her was the fact that she describes her position as one of confrontation beyond dialogue and electoral politics.

There are a couple of elements of the tape that are hard to understand at this point, but which may become clear in the coming days.

First, when she is talking about what Aveledo told the State Department Machado apparently says “Or a process of tightening the screws and domestication to generate a system of total social control.” It is hard to understand what this could mean from the perspective of an opposition that controls no branches of the government. Two possibilities occur to me, both of them assume that this part of the tape was edited. Either Machado was talking about the Maduro government and this segment was pasted in to make it look like she is talking about opposition tactics. Or she was talking about what the opposition would do if they were to take power, i.e. create a sort of transition police state.

Second, Machado criticizes Capriles and Aveledo for their conciliatory stances, suggests she should have gone to the State Department to talk tough, but then describes how Aveledo went to the State Department to talk tough. It is a little hard to understand what her complaint is. In the released tape these statements follow one another in this order. My assumption is that they actually occurred at temporally distant parts of the conversation and that Machado contradicts herself just as much as anybody else does in spoken communication.

Finally, where did this tape come from? Jorge Rodriguez says it was given to him by an opposition activist. But who made it? Machado has suggested that this was an illegal recording which would mean that neither she nor Carrera Damas made it. Is his house under surveillance?