Let me recall here that in July 1999, when Hugo Chavez had been in power for merely five months, a march of small informal vendors took place. The group headed to the site of the Interior Ministry to protest the extorsions, merchandise theft and illegal police detentions they were suffering. When they were some five blocks from their destination, they were attacked with sticks and truncheons by a group of thugs on motorcycles; one woman even received a brutal blow to her right shoulder from the helmet of one of the attackers.
I remember hearing an observation that at the time seemed unimportant, but that now acquires an interesting relevance: a reporter from Radio Caracas Television who witnessed those events commented that several of the motorcycles were new, and identical to one another. Could those in power have already supplied the resources to acquire new motorcycles with which to block the right to protest?
I’m not sure whether this attack was actually the first public appearance of a violent armed group – in other words, a paramilitary group whose members were able to operate with no consequences whatsoever under the Chavez regime now in power. At that time, neither the police nor the National Guard lifted a finger to protect those marching, but left them defenseless, beaten up and impotent. What happened that day, roughly speaking, is a scene that has been repeated over the last 24 years: a group of violent men at the service of the regime. who act not only with total impunity but also, on many occasions, directly under the protection of police and soldiers.
Upon looking further into the origin of the Chavista paramilitarism, it’s noteworthy that the paramilitary were part of the founding nucleus of the Chavez coup movement. (We should recall that there were armed civilians directly linked to the two coup attempts of 1992). Not only that, but there are cases like that of the La Piedrita paramilitary band, whose website has apparently not been updated for many years. It states that the group was created in December 1985, six years before the February 4th coup attempt. Proclaiming that is like saying that the criminal group headed by Valentin Santana was just waiting for the arrival of their messiah, conspirator, and coup promoter Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez.
One of the first times Chavez made use of paramilitary forces was in Caracas, with the creation of what was called “the Hot Corner.” They appeared in December 1998, days after Chavez’s electoral victory, occupied a part of Bolivar Plaza and converted the site into a kind of open headquarters. From that corner, they not only dedicated themselves to launching attacks on opposing politicians, journalists and sometimes simply passers-by, using glasses and bottles, meatal pipes, stones and more. They also blocked common citizens from circulating through that point and its surroundings.
In other words, they appropriated a public space – what’s more a space rife with symbolism. The Hot Corner was the first widely publicized case of common criminals, neighborhood minions, evil-doers, drug addicts and others devoted to an illicit lifestyle who now hitched their wagons to the “beautiful revolution” and the construction of “Venezuela as a world power.” This group, however, joined into exercise forms of physical violence that went against the constitutional right of Venezuelan citizens to circulate freely.
From that moment on, the paramilitary bands and the motorcycle groups arose in dozens of cities all around the country – 36 cities, according to a 2005 report of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.
Some of these groups, like that in the city of Merida, soon became famous for the violent attacks they realized, with incredible frequency, on students from the University of Los Andes, whether or not they were protesting.
Since 1999, there hasn’t been a day in Venezuela’s political and social life without violent actions on the part of the regime’s paramilitary, in detriment to the human life of politicians, social leaders, journalists in the exercise of their profession, or ordinary, defenseless citizens. In fact, the use of the paramilitary as a selective instrument for domination and for instilling of a permanent state of fear has reached this extreme: the realization of operations in conjunction with military and police, especially during marches and protest demonstrations.
Dozens of journalists and photographers – both from Venezuela and from other countries – have witnessed the military and police draw back from guarding a protest, in order to leave the demonstrators exposed to the fury of the armed motorcyclists of Chavismo, and now of Nicolas Maduro. The exploits of these cowardly beasts (that’s no contradiction – a beast is, by its very nature, cowardly) include hundreds of attacks on the elderly, educators, nurses, public employees, women protesting the problems with public services, students and more. During such feats, the beasts have killed more than 20 people (possible 24, 25 or more) and have left four people permanently disabled. They’ve caused lesions and both body and psychological harm of indisputable seriousness. Is there even one, just one, in jail for such crimes?
The essential conclusion that can be noted by even a superficial review of the long, inexhaustive and brutal record of the paramilitary as a tool of the regime, is that it’s not a resource that can be employed or not as needed, or a tool like any other. The paramilitary are an essential part of the make-up of the Chavez and Maduro regimes. In reality, this body is their most complete expression, because through this group – in contrast to what happens with the military and police bodies – they can exercise unlimited violence against citizens – anonymously, uncontrolled, without rules and with no hierarchies.
Hence, the recent attacks on marches and activities promoting some of the aspiring opposition candidates are unsurprising news. That’s the official response of those in power to the rights of their citizens. Or have we forgotten that just a few weeks ago, a General in the National Guard threatened a group of educators, telling them to either leave the spot and dissolve their demonstration or they would send in the paramilitary “collectives”? Do we need any more proof that the regime is paramilitary and the paramilitary are the regime?