October 12, 2011 3:54PM

María Corina Machado: A Breath of Fresh Air in Venezuela

Yesterday I wrote that the opposition in Venezuela seems determined to maintain the economic model installed by Hugo Chávez that fosters people’s dependency on government. I should’ve written “most of the opposition,” since there is a remarkable exception in the field of presidential candidates: Congresswoman María Corina Machado.

At a rally yesterday in a working class neighborhood of Caracas, and surrounded by unlicensed street vendors, female small business owners and young followers, Machado launched her political platform called “People’s Capitalism,” under which, she said, “Venezuela will leave behind the entitlement model in order to build true prosperity for its citizens.” This is a breath of fresh air from the usual Venezuelan political discourse that stresses the government’s central role in redistributing the country’s oil riches. In fact, just the use of the word “capitalism” is extremely daring in a nation where free market ideas have been consistently disparaged by President Chávez and his acolytes for over a decade.

In her speech, Machado attacked socialism as a model that perpetuates poverty by demeaning people and creating dependency. She explained that her platform is based on trust in the creative capacity of the individual. As for the role of government, Machado said that it must provide the legal framework that stimulates entrepreneurship and eliminates regulatory obstacles so that people in the informal economy—such as the vendors she was addressing—can join the formal economy. She also offered a strong defense of private property by saying that “if you can’t own the fruit of your labor, then you don’t own your labor and thus you aren’t free.”

Despite being elected to the National Assembly last year with the greatest number of votes in all Venezuela, Machado is a long shot to win the nomination for the Coalition for Democratic Unity. However, her commitment to free market ideas is a welcome departure from the other opposition candidates who seem interested in perpetuating Venezuela’s entitlement culture.

Machado spoke at a Cato Policy Forum two years ago on the failure of social policy in Venezuela. She also recorded a podcast for us on Hugo Chávez’s crackdown on political dissent.