In 2017, Roberto Picón spent six months in Helicoide, Caracas’ most feared political prison, awaiting trial for “treason of the motherland”. He was also an advisor to the former opposition coalition MUD (Office for Democratic Unity) between 2008 and 2018.
Now, three years after his arrest, Picón is part of Venezuela’s new National Electoral Council – the body responsible for organizing elections in the country and which in recent years has fallen into disrepute for being under control. of the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.
This transition from a former political prisoner to a member of the CNE came after the regime has signaled in recent weeks that it wants to engage with the opposition in search of a pact that could ease international sanctions imposed on Venezuela. .
Among other measures, the government released a group of cadres who had been held as political prisoners on house arrest and decided that the new electorate, approved by the Chavismo-controlled National Assembly, would have two opposition representatives. in his training – one of them, Picón.
The gestures were initially viewed with suspicion by the opposition, but later leaders such as Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López showed signs that they could accept the approach as a way to tackle the economic crisis and social crisis in the country.
In this scenario, Picón argues that the opposition must take advantage of the loophole to occupy the spaces offered by the regime. In an interview with Folha de Caracas, he said his priority in this post will be to fight so that opposition politicians currently banned from running for office can participate in the next elections.
The new CNE was chosen by an elected National Assembly in an irregular ballot. Why did you agree to compose an organ which, at the outset, is not legitimate? It’s a question similar to this expression on the above, the egg or the hen. Yes, the Assembly that appointed us is not recognized by much of society and international public opinion. But I think, just like in that expression, there is no point in circumventing the answer. The truth is that today we have a CNE which gives the opportunity to two members of civil society, of the opposition, to work with Chavismo.
This has generated a political fact that can stop the inertia of the situation in which we find ourselves. The choice of new members of the CNE has helped lead some opposition leaders, such as Leopoldo López or Juan Guaidó, to now admit speaking to Maduro and vice versa. Something that had been stuck until then. So I see this as an advantage for Venezuela.
What can we expect from the new CNE for the next election of governors, mayors and legislative councils, which will take place on November 21? We need Venezuelans to believe in the CNE again, voters participate in elections and politicians. For this, we have started to work on several fronts.
The first is to make an inventory of all the handicaps of politicians opposed to the government. List who they are and who has withdrawn their right to apply. Politicians in particular and political parties too. In some cases it was the prosecutor’s office, in others justice, in others control. Having identified this, we will make political efforts to reverse these handicaps.
The second is a revision of the system, which will continue to be automated, with electronic voting, using the manual only in case of insufficiency in the first case. In general, so far the assessment is that we have a system that technically works well.
Then a campaign will come for the people to understand that we are in a new moment, to try to recover the institutionality of the country, and that, therefore, participation is important. And, finally, to involve qualified international observers in the whole process, so that we can recover the image of the Venezuelan electoral system in front of the world.
You were part of the opposing MUD coalition and you were even arrested for opposing the regime. What makes you think you can trust the decisions Maduro is making now? The Venezuelan political conflict, over the years, has grown into an increasingly intense existential conflict. I was the victim of this confrontation and I spent six months in prison on Hélicoïde, then another six months at home. To date, there has not been a hearing, not even a preliminary one, that is to say the one during which the prosecution should present the charges. It is an open question, but it does not concern me now, because as Rector of the CNE, I have a privileged forum, which could only be deleted by decision of the National Assembly.
I say this is an existential conflict because it already assumes that there are persecuted and disabled people and therefore there is no chance of changing anything. For this reason, I think that we must take advantage of all the spaces that power gives us to seek the possibility of competing and reinstitutionalizing the country.
But why believe that this possibility exists now and did not exist before? Because the situation is changing. Venezuela’s economic and political isolation weakened the strength of the regime. There are no revenues, neither exports nor imports, and we are paying a high cost for the economic sanctions imposed by the countries of the international community. The country’s governance will be increasingly in crisis if this trend continues. For this reason, the government has taken decisions like this, to call on civil society to participate in the CNE. It gives us a chance and we must take advantage of it.
In this context of gestures to improve the image of Venezuela abroad, how do you assess, for example, the confiscation of the El Nacional building, the last major independent newspaper in the country? It’s a bad sign, that’s for sure. But it shows that the regime has internal divisions. There are those who want to improve the image of the regime and there are those who believe that this type of arbitrariness can continue to be committed.
Even so, the judiciary, in theory, is autonomous, and it was not a decision of the executive. It’s unfortunate that this has happened, but we cannot interpret it as a direct order from Maduro. I think there is division in the regime and that there are currents more inclined to negotiations than others, and they argue internally. What happened in the case of Nacional was the manifestation of part of the government forces. Not the whole government.
Roberto Picón, 59 years old
An engineer, he was an advisor to the MUD (Office of Democratic Unity), an anti-Chavist alliance formed in Parliament in 2008. He is one of the five rectors of the new National Electoral Council of Venezuela.