The next PIXAR film set in Venezuela won’t be called Up. It will be called “Down”. What happens when America is asleep at the wheel? Continuing the theme of today’s open thread photo… All is (NOT) Well! Ebola, ISIS, China/Vietnam… Venezuela continues its plummet. Michael Totten linked to this World Affairs Journal piece about Venezuela’s “community organizations” and their Cuban sponsorship.
When mass protests against the government erupted in Venezuela early in February, murder rates in the country were already shocking—close to twenty-five thousand people dead in the previous year, with ninety-seven percent of cases going unsolved. They would soon get worse, as motorcycle gangs in civilian clothes began attacking and shooting unarmed citizens, particularly youngsters, with the security forces standing by.
Known as colectivos, these paramilitary groups emerged during the presidency of the late Hugo Chávez to guard his revolutionary program. Officially, they are community organizations, but according to Roberto Briceño, the director of the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, they act as “guerrillas protected by the government.” Widespread reports and extensive film evidence show them killing and beating protesters, destroying vehicles, sacking homes and businesses, and apparently also attacking pro-government forces, presumably in an effort to tarnish the image of peaceful demonstrators, escalate the conflict, and justify strong-arm tactics.
Although rampant crime is not typically allowed by an authoritarian government, colectivos and criminal gangs have enjoyed widespread impunity in Venezuela. Bárbara González, a six-year veteran of the country’s intelligence service (SEBIN) who deserted last February, affirmed over Colombian radio that the “urban guerrillas” are mostly criminals armed by the government and coached by the Colombian terrorist group FARC, and that all security forces, including police and SEBIN, have orders to give them free rein. A former Cuban intelligence agent who served in Venezuela, Uberto Mario, reported that Cuba recruits criminals from poor neighborhoods for the tupamaro, a radical Marxist group that predates Chávez and is now considered part of the colectivos. They are trained to destabilize Venezuelan society and contain opposition and unrest. Mario affirms that Cuban agents recruit them and that, after receiving instruction in Marxism-Leninism in Caracas, they are sent to Cuba to learn how to “kill and repress.”
Perhaps attempting to provide political cover for sending organized criminals to train in Cuba, in August 2013, Venezuela’s vice minister of the interior spoke on television of discussing with members of two hundred and eighty criminal bands (of around ten thousand members) a government program to provide financial assistance “to those giving up their arms.” About six weeks later, in October, the vice minister for citizen safety acknowledged that delinquents voluntarily giving up their weapons were being sent to Cuba for rehabilitation, after which they would join the labor force. Coincidentally, she announced the deployment of twelve thousand more “soldiers” to the streets to support police. A truer picture emerged in March from former Venezuelan intelligence agents and sources with direct access to active officers of the Venezuelan armed forces. They told the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald that Cubans, including around twenty high-ranking officers at the presidential palace in Caracas, were directing the repression of protesters and coordinating the paramilitary groups.
I hope the old bromide that “It’s always darkest before dawn” is true… because it’s getting dark out there — and darkness spreads.