Four days ago, the members of a colectivo armado (“armed group”) called La Piedrita made national headlines after they appeared in a video voicing their support for Maduro. In the video, the colectivos’ leader, Valentin Santana, was surrounded by heavily-armed masked men when he pledged that his organization would “defend our homeland (…) today, tomorrow and forever” from the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Later that same day, colectivo members held a rally in Caracas in support of Maduro.
The Santana video and with the colectivo rally in the capital made a splash on national media, since they appeared to indicate a worrying development in the country’s continued collapse: the strengthening of pro-regime armed militias.
While the term colectivo armado is most easily translated as “armed group”, it has political connotations in the Venezuelan context. The Bolivarian Revolutions emphasis on grassroots organizations is predicated on the creation of colectivos (roughly, “groups”) at the neighbourhood level. In theory, colectivos can form around any number of issues, from food and water distribution to lobbying for resources from local government.
Some of Venezuela’s many colectivo organizations also have armed wings that are tasked with acting as the first line of defense against the enemies of the Maduro regime. These colectivos armados are arguably most infamous for their role in anti-government protest repression. In the 2017 anti-government protest wave, colectivos armados killed approximately 27 protesters.
The colectivo movement was dealt a blow yesterday when Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez said in series of tweets that the Bolivarian Revolution did not have room for the organizations. In a trio of tweets, Lopez said:
“The Bolivarian Revolution DOES NOT need armed groups at the margins of the law. The Bolviarian Revolution, the State and the Venezuelan people have and can count on the [Army] to conduct its duties in accordance to the constitution”.
“It is not with weapons that we will achieve social victories, it’s with the people, with the civil-military union; that is why I am going to fix a position as the [Minister of Defense]: we reject these so-called colectivos that are brandishing weapons!”
“The foundation of the Bolivarian Revolution is in the people, in popular organization, in the communes, in the art, music, political, sport and life colectivos, NOT in these organizations that have misinterpreted the message and call themselves colectivos“
Lopez’s repudiation of the colectivo armado movement is the loudest and clearest that the Maduro regime has sent to date.
Today, the colectivo armado movement issued a response to Lopez’s comments, suggesting that the minister had betrayed the principles of the Bolivarian Revolution and chosen to side with its enemies.
The response, which was signed by “The Glorious Colectivos“, was posted on Caraota Digital. Part of the document reads:
This was to be expected. We knew that you [Lopez] would fall, as have so many others over the years during the revolution due to the media pressure from the opportunist yellow right wing media!
The document exalts the colectivo armado movement as being an integral part of Hugo Chavez’s vision for Venezuela, and accuses unnamed high-ranking government officials of being “traitors” to that vision.
Army Purges 24 Critical Officers from Ranks
Caracas formally expelled 24 army officers suspected of being critical of the Maduro regime from the ranks of the military today. The purge includes 11 active-duty and 13 retired officers.
The expulsion of the officers was published in a Gaceta Oficial today, and broadly alleges that the officers aimed to overthrow the Maduro regime “through violent means”.
Among the purged officers is Captain (Ret.) Juan Carlos Caguaripano, who led a short-lived rebellion against the regime in August of last year. The list of officers also includes Rauel Baduel, who served as Minister of Defense under Hugo Chavez until he was removed from his position in 2008 for speaking out against his government.
US Extends National Security Emergency on Venezuela
The White House formally extended a declaration of national emergency against Venezuela today, citing the ongoing crisis in the country. The extension means that Executive Order 13692–which was originally implemented by the Obama administration in 2015–will remain in effect until at least March 2019.
President Obama issued the Order on March 8 of 2015, citing a long list of abuses by the Maduro regime against the Venezuelan people, including:
… [the] erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protesters, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant government corruption.
Today’s update from the White House points out that since conditions in the country “have not improved” since March 2015, the Order will remain in effect for at least another year.
The Executive Order classifies Venezuela’s instability as a national security threat for the United States, and allows for the placing of sanctions against the Maduro regime and its officials.
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