United States National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted a message today to Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez in which he claimed that Maduro and PSUV vicepresident Diosdado Cabello want to undermine the Venezuelan army through their reliance on colectivos armados (pro-government civilian groups).
Below, Bolton’s tweet:
With his tweet, Bolton is attempting to drive a rift between Padrino Lopez–who is the head of the armed forces–and the PSUV leadership.
In Venezuela, the term colectivo armado is used to describe groups of pro-government civilians who sometimes attack anti-government demonstrators and activists. These groups are the predecessors of the Circulos Bolivarianos, which served a similar purpose during the early years of the Chavez presidency.
The Maduro regime and its supporters claim that colectivos are peaceful organizations that are involved in activities like community organizing and grassroots mobilization. While this may be the case, it is also true that some colectivos attack anti-government protesters, and that they play an important role in the regime’s toolbox of repression.
The violent activities of colectivos armados have been extensively documented by organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
According to Venezuelan law, protest repression and other public duties fall upon official state institutions like police and the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. It is this encroachment into the role of the military in Venezuela by the colectivos that Bolton was highlighting in his tweet.
Bolton’s Message Follows Leak of Army Memo
On Friday night, a document reported to be an internal memo from the Ministry of Defense addressed the matter of the colectivos. Part of the document states:
There have been attempts to associate these colectivos with armed groups that generate violence, organized and street criminals, both urban and [rural]. In this sense no group that generates violence can be called a colectivo, because this would be the antithesis of their original goals.
According to the document, colectivos are by definition peaceful organizations, and therefore no group that commits violence can be called a colectivo. The document suggests that any suggestion that colectivos act violently are part of a “perverse” campaign
… by extreme right wing organizations under the auspices of imperial agents…
The document is dated April 5 of this year.
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