Venezuela: Armed civilians fight protesters

Maduro unleashes the colectivos of war.
(Colectivos is one of the names for the marauding motorcycle gangs I’ve written about in the past.)

Armed Civilians Fight Venezuela Protesters
Government Goads Self-Appointed Guardians of Revolution to Counter Unrest

Mobs of civilians on motorcycles have swarmed antigovernment demonstrations, sometimes firing weapons, sometimes swinging bats, and have stormed a university and burst into apartment blocks in search of adversaries, witnesses and rights groups said. Created under late President Hugo Chávez’s government, these so-called colectivos—or collectives—are the self-appointed guardians of Venezuela’s socialist “revolution.”

But the recent protests under President Nicolás Maduro have thrust them into a far more prominent role, say human-rights groups and opposition members. Among their concerns is that the civilian groups, while loyal to the government, aren’t explicitly under its command, and can largely act as they please.

No colectivo leaders have been arrested.

Maduro uses the colectivos not only to attack Venezuelans, he also uses them for propaganda purposes: “If the gringos invade us, the colectivos will swallow them live.” So much for the Obama administration’s smart diplomacy.

The colectivos attacked nearly a third of the protests staged in March, and of their leaders, José Pinto, head of the Tupamaro Revolutionary Movement, was at the “peace negotiations” last month at Maduro’s invitation:

Tracing their origins to the urban leftist guerillas of the 1960s, armed civilian groups faithful to Venezuela’s populist government grew in power under Mr. Chávez, who was accused by opposition leaders of arming civilian groups in his 14 years in power.

There are now in Venezuela roughly a dozen major armed civilian groups, with 2,000 to 3,000 members, said Javier Ciurlizza, Latin America director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that does in-depth reports on conflicts world-wide, including here.

They also act as Chavismo enforcers:

the society of motorbikes is a creation of chavismo who has subsidized them heavily in the early years because they were their storm troopers to quickly go around town to crush any anti Chavez protest. Remember Lina Ron? Now they are out of control, a threat to regime itself. One shudders at the idea that suddenly 300 bikes could appear in a neighborhood and start looting while the cops look helpless. Because they are armed, you know, the bikers, better than the cops probably.

Juan Nagel writes about Human Rights Watch’s finding of “systematic” human rights violations in Venezuela:

Pay close attention to the language in which their main conclusions are presented (emphasis is mine):

  • “What we found during our in-country investigation and subsequent research is a pattern of serious abuse.” (Page 1)

  • “Judges often confirmed charges against detainees based on dubious evidence presented by prosecutors … Prosecutors and judges routinelyturned a blind eye to evidence suggesting that detainees had been subject to abuses while in detention…” (P. 2)

  • “(O)ur research leads us to conclude that the abuses were not isolated cases or excesses by rogue security force members, but rather part of a broader pattern, which senior officers and officials must or should have known about, and seem at a minimum to have tolerated. The fact that the abuses by members of security forces were carried out repeatedly, by multiple security forces, in multiple locations across three states and the capital (including in controlled environments such as military installations and other state institutions), and over the six-week period covered in this report, supports the conclusion that the abuses were part of a systematicpractice by the Venezuelan security forces.” (P. 3 and 4)

  • “Security forces routinely used unlawful force against unarmed protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations.” (P. 8)

  • “In the scores of cases of detentions documented by Human Rights Watch, the majority of the detainees were participating in protests at the time of their arrests. However, the government routinely failed to present credible evidence that these protesters were committing crimes at the time they were arrested, which is a requirement under Venezuelan law when detaining someone without an arrest warrant.” (P. 10)

  • “In every case in which individuals were detained on private property, security forces entered buildings without search orders, often forcing their way in by breaking down doors.” (P. 10)

  • “Security forces repeatedly allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack protesters … ” (P. 12)

  • “The detainees were routinely held incommunicado for extended periods of time, usually up to 48 hours, and sometimes longer. While, in a few exceptional cases documented by Human Rights Watch, detainees were released before being brought before a judge, in the overwhelmingmajority of cases prosecutors charged them with several crimes, regardless of whether there was any evidence the accused had committed a crime.” (P. 19)

  • “In virtually all of the cases we investigated, detainees were not permitted to contact their families during the initial 48 hours of their detention despite repeated requests to do so.” (P. 19)

  • Virtually all detainees were not allowed to meet with their defense lawyers until minutes before their initial hearing before a judge.” (P. 20)

  • “Hearings were routinely and inexplicably held in the middle of the night, a practice that lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had not experienced in other types of cases.” (P. 21)

  • “While most of those charged were granted conditional liberty in the cases we investigated, judges repeatedly placed conditions (medidas cautelares) on detainees’ freedom that prevented them from exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression, such as prohibiting them from participating in demonstrations or talking to the media.” (P. 21)

  • “Never before, (defense attorneys) said, had they encountered such acomprehensive battery of obstacles affecting so many cases.” (P. 22)

  • “(I)n many of these cases, the investigative police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the judiciary are themselves implicated in serious due process violations, as well as in failing to intervene to address abuses by security forces against detainees.” (P. 26)

Read the HRW report, Punished for Protesting
Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System

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