The Chavista collectives (or “colectivos” in Spanish), are irregular armed forces, and just one of the many violent groups that has blossomed on Venezuelan territory since the arrival to power of Hugo Chavez. However, these militia groups have taken an increasingly prominent role in recent weeks, being the villainous stars of the disastrous events of February 23, a day during which they burned medicine and food, and also lashed out against those who actively supported the entry of humanitarian aid.
These groups, however, did not appear in the early hours of February 22. The aforementioned armed bands have their origins in the different subversive movements of the 1960s. When Chávez took power in 1999, he saw the advantages that the resurgence of such groups could offer to his administration. Thus, already in his role as president, he entrusted them with the task of being “the armed wing of the Bolivarian revolution.”
Chavez, following in the footsteps of countless totalitarian governments, publicly advocated the disarmament of civilians while, on the other hand, encouraging the creation of militias whose sole objective was to intimidate, in the most nefarious ways, the Venezuelan people.
José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch in the Americas, declared in 2014 in an interview with “Voice of America”, that “the (Venezuelan) government exerts intolerance and harassment against anyone who differs from its official policies and applies all kinds of measures against opponents and human rights defenders” and added that “the consequences can be of all kinds, the government harasses people, using groups of armed gangs, who use violence with total impunity.”
Three years later, the same organization produced an extensive document in which it denounced different violations of human rights, and dedicated a special chapter to the collectives, which it described as “a secret weapon to control demonstrations” and also noted that “they travel on motorcycles and carry firearms.” The document also highlights the fact that these groups function in absolute coordination with local authorities and security forces.
However, despite the existence of these documents, the international community paid little attention, perhaps with the sole exception of Mike Pompeo, current US Secretary of State, and former director of the CIA, who warned in 2017 that “the risk posed by the militias It is growing.”
The organization InSight Crime indicates that the groups may have received training from Colombian rebels and details, as well, the type of weapons that these militias have at their disposal, including 9 mm pistols (with up to 50 meters range) , AR-15 rifles (with a range of up to 457 meters) and AK-47s, which have ranges between 302 and 443 meters. They also have tear gas bombs, radios, motorcycles, and four-wheel drive vehicles.
The feared militias, which in recent weeks have increased their presence at border points, are not only the perpetrators of the burning of trucks with humanitarian aid, as is public knowledge, but also the killing of Pemon Indians. The South American left has remained curiously silent, in the face of the murders.
The collectives bring together civilians defenders of the regime who live in squalor, and former prison inmates; that is, people who have nothing left to lose, who are willing to execute the most abominable orders.
Maduro’s day of reckoning is at hand: he will not be able to ignore the vile actions of his militias and will have to answer for every case of torture, for every kidnapping, for every life lost, and, of course, for the medicine and food that did not arrive; for the children and the elderly who died on February 23 while brave volunteers tried to bring medicines over an international bridge. By action and omission, Maduro has all the blame. A similar fate will face governments actively complicit with the regime (Cuba, Russia, Turkey) and those who support it less overtly (Bolivia, Mexico, Uruguay).