[News] Who Are Venezuela’s Colectivos?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 15 18:05:06 EDT 2019


http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14430


  Who Are Venezuela’s Colectivos?

By Federico Fuentes - Green Left Weekly - April 15, 2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------

/The media calls them armed thugs and US Senator Marco Rubio wants them 
put on the terrorist list, but who are Venezuela’s colectivos 
(collectives)? Green Left Weekly’s *Federico Fuentes* met with some of 
them to find out./

As we walked around the 23 de Enero/ barrio/ in Caracas, an announcement 
came through Cucaracho’s walkie talkie: “We are in a war and the main 
target of this offensive is the popular movements, the colectivos. This 
is no coincidence: they know the colectivos are their main obstacle and 
23 de Enero is the tip of the iceberg.”

Cucaracho — “that’s what they call me” — is a member of the Alexis 
Vive//colectivo, which is active in this historically militant 
neighbourhood strategically located close to the presidential palace.

Its history and location means 23 de Enero is regularly referred to as 
one of the main bases for the colectivos.

Demonised by the international media and targeted by the opposition, the 
colectivos have become a symbol of scorn for President Nicolas Maduro’s 
opponents.

They are regularly portrayed in the media as armed gangs and the last 
bastion of support for Maduro’s government. But the reality of the 
colectivos — like almost everything in Venezuela — is vastly different.

Many of the groups today labelled as colectivos predate Maduro and his 
predecessor Hugo Chavez. Others, like Alexis Vive, emerged during the 
Chavez presidency.


    Origins

Almost all of them are community organisations that have flourished 
under Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.

“They view the colectivos as similar to the insurgent groups in the 
Middle East that resisted invasion” explains Cucaracho. “That is why 
they demonise us. They see us as a barrier, as a final line of defence, 
but they don't come to see our reality.”

Alexis Vive was instrumental in establishing the Panal 2021 commune. 
Promoted by Chavez, communes have become the main form of democratic 
community organising across the country.

The Panal 2021 commune, which incorporated about 3600 families in a 
sector of 23 de Enero, has its own self-managed enterprises such as a 
bakery and sugar-packaging plant, its own radio and cable TV station, 
its own transport and food distribution centres, and even its own local 
currency.

Profits from all of the commune’s enterprises are deposited in the 
communal bank and redistributed to projects decided upon by the community.

“The idea of the commune is to disperse power”, explains Cucaracho, “so 
that the people are the ones who make the decisions.

“Our role is to train cadre and teach people about the strategic vision 
of the commune.

“But we are just like everyone else in the community: we join the same 
queues as everyone else, we help the elderly, we are part of the community.”

This does not mean that colectivos limit themselves solely to community 
work.

In San Fernando, the capital of Apure state, I spoke to members of the 
Union of /Motorizados/ — motorbike couriers who are regularly labelled 
as colectivo members.

“The opposition are the violent ones,” one of them said. “They loot 
shops, set houses on fire. So what happens? We, the motorizados, come 
out and then they run away, they don’t come back.

“You won’t find us looting shops or creating chaos. But we are also not 
going to let others set people's houses on fire.”

“The last time they protested,” another said, referring to the wave of 
violent opposition protests that rocked the country in 2017, “they burnt 
down a nursery. What sort of protest is that? Those kids have got 
nothing to do with what is going on, so why are they being targeted?”

Junior is a member of the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current 
(CRBZ), another group denounced in the media as a colectivo, but which 
has its origins in a group of campaigners for peasant rights formed in 
the ‘90s. He was among those present on the Venezuela-Colombia border on 
February 23, when the United States sought to violate Venezuelan 
sovereignty under the pretext of bringing in “humanitarian aid”.

Junior explained that the CRBZ decided to send some members to the 
border during those days. “It was an internal decision. Those of us who 
are the most politically clear, the most prepared, were the ones who went.”

“We didn’t go because the government told us to go. It was our political 
consciousness that took us there.”

The build-up to the events on February 23 meant that the possibility of 
violence was ever present. Not knowing what to expect, Junior explained 
that they “psychologically prepared for the worst, for anything that 
might come.

“You couldn’t go there thinking about your family, your children. So you 
had to go there thinking about your contribution to the revolution, to 
defending your country, the fact that you are going there to fight for 
your mum’s future, your dad’s future, the future of my children and the 
children of my children.

“We went to defend our sovereignty, the sovereignty of our country, of 
our nation. If a military intervention had occurred, we were there, 
ready, and they would have had to go through us, because we are a people 
willing to defend our sovereignty, willing to fight back to defend every 
centimetre of this territory.”

In the end, the opposition’s mission failed. Even the media’s lie that 
the Venezuelan armed forces had burnt trucks carrying humanitarian aid 
was revealed to be false when videos emerged showing opposition 
protesters had cause the fire.

According to that same media, colectivos had attacked protesters on the 
Venezuelan side of the border. But Junior recounted a different version 
of events.

“The border region of Tachira is very complicated,” he said. “The 
Venezuelan opposition there works with Colombian paramilitaries to 
increase their strength.”

“On February 23, there were some small protests on this side of the 
border in disputed areas, areas where you have Colombian paramilitaries 
who are struggling to gain control of the area because it's a strategic 
region for them.

“Their presence provides the opposition with logistics and force.”

Despite the paramilitary presence, the opposition was unable to generate 
the kind of violence they hoped for, though Junior explained that he, 
along with others from the CRBZ had to find alternate means to get home 
after opposition protesters set some of their vehicles on fire.


    Media Bias

“The media generally does not portray the reality of events. The reality 
is that the violence overwhelmingly comes from the opposition”, Junior said.

“The opposition always tries to provoke violence because they know the 
media will simply say the government is responsible, that the government 
represses the people, and use this as an excuse for intervention.

“The media always take the side of the opposition; they don't tell the 
truth.

“They sell a message to the rest of the world that is false. They are 
not balanced in regard to their information and their reporting on what 
is happening here.”

Colectivo members I spoke to acknowledged that, in some cases, state 
intelligence agents had either infiltrated certain colectivos or 
masqueraded as ones to attack and intimidate opposition protests. But, 
although this was more the exception rather than the rule, it is these 
groups the media have focussed on.

Rafael Ramos, a postgraduate student at the Institute for High Studies 
in Diplomacy Pedro Gual explained that the media’s portrayal of the 
colectivos has a clear intention.

“This editorial line is pushed to make international public opinion 
believe that Chavismo has lost all its support.

“They are introducing the idea that Venezuela is supposedly a 
dictatorship, with no freedom of speech, and that Chavismo is just 
limited to a few remaining supporters who potentially have to be 
exterminated.

“Because they're just a few people, then violence against Chavistas, the 
colectivos, is justified. The media dehumanises them, portrays them as 
non-human, so in the end it doesn't matter if they treat them like 
animals or kill them.

“The image they are trying to portray internationally is an attempt to 
justify violence.”

The colectivo members I spoke understand this.

“We are human beings, like everyone else” said Robert Longa, whose voice 
I had heard through Cucaracho’s walkie talkie. “We live in the 
community, participate in the commune, attend assemblies, study and look 
for ways to produce food to deal with the crisis.

“But we are conscious that we are in a war.

“Not against the opposition because opposition doesn't exist, they 
cannot overthrow Maduro. We are up against imperialism.”

“They attack the colectivos because we are willing to defend our model. 
The colectivos are organised with the aim of deepening the Bolivarian 
Revolution through popular organisation and the creation of the communal 
state.

“We are strongly convinced that this is the correct way forward: a 
government of the people based on participatory democracy.”

“We will resolve our problems within the revolution. We are Chavista and 
we will not betray Chavez.”

“There are people that claim to be Chavista but that are killing 
Chavismo. There are people who have infiltrated state institutions and 
who work against us.

“The people want the revolution to be deepened. They want the 
bureaucrats kicked out once and for all; for the land to be given to the 
peasants and the factories to be taken over by the workers.

“We want a radicalisation of the revolution. We want all power to the 
people: that is what we seek.

“But for now our problem is with the gringos. Once we resolve this 
issue, then we will deal with our own internal problems.”

/[Federico Fuentes visited Venezuela in March as part of a fact-finding 
visit by solidarity activists. The visit was made possible in part by 
donations from Green Left supporters. Donate now 
<https://www.greenleft.org.au/donate>to help us continue our coverage of 
Venezuela.]/

/The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not 
necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff./

-- 
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