Small Wars Journal

Maduro’s Muscle: Politically Backed Motorcycle Gangs Known as 'Colectivos' are the Enforcers for Venezuela’s Authoritarian Leader

Maduro’s Muscle: Politically Backed Motorcycle Gangs Known as 'Colectivos' are the Enforcers for Venezuela’s Authoritarian Leader by Mary Beth Sheridan and Mariana Zuñiga – Washington Post

… The attack on Sunday was a chilling sign of how President Nicolás Maduro is increasingly relying on paramilitary groups as he clings to power. This week, he publicly urged the motorcycle-riding “colectivos” to intensify their efforts, as the country teetered on the edge of economic collapse and a U.S.-backed opposition movement pressed for his ouster.

 

“I call on the colectivos; the hour of resistance has arrived, active resistance in the community,” Maduro declared in the speech on Monday.

 

The colectivos aren’t nearly as big as Venezuela’s armed forces — they number perhaps 5,000 to 7,500 members nationwide, most of them in cities, according to Alejandro Velasco, a history professor at New York University who has studied the phenomenon. But they help explain how Maduro has remained in power even as the country’s economy and poorly maintained power grid have broken down. The paramilitary forces are nimble and committed — and they have an extraordinary ability to sow terror.

 

Ingrid Maldonado witnessed Sunday’s clash between the neighbors and colectivos in Chacao, a business district of apartment buildings, offices and hotels in eastern Caracas.

 

“Before, government repression just meant tear gas,” said Maldonado, 49. “Now there are bullets. It’s different. You think twice about going out.”

 

The colectivos have their roots in the Cuban-inspired guerrilla forces that battled Venezuela’s staunchly anti-communist governments in the 1960s. After that conflict, some former rebels returned to poor neighborhoods determined to spread socialism through community activities — offering classes, showing movies, giving out free bread — and to protect residents from corrupt police.

 

Under the “Bolivarian revolution” of Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s predecessor, the number of these small armed groups grew. Some were permitted to control neighborhoods and run criminal rackets such as drug trafficking and extortion, analysts say. In return, they rounded up votes and provided other political support…

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