[News] Who Are Venezuela’s Colectivos?
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 15 18:05:06 EDT 2019
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
/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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