Demonising the “Colectivos”: Demonising the Grassroots

As it's prone to do, the private media has invented a new thing. In both English and Spanish they are calling it colectivos, and these collectives are meant to be irrational, cruel, grotesque armed motorbike riders who “enforce” the revolution and are responsible for most of the current violence. 


As it is prone to do, the private media has invented a new thing. In both English and Spanish they are calling it colectivos, and these collectives are meant to be irrational, cruel, grotesque armed motorbike riders who “enforce” the revolution and are responsible for most of the current violence. The opposition barricaders are the innocent victims of these collectives, who apparently work with the National Guard and have the support of the government.

The private media is using the concept to demonise the real collectives in Venezuela; the social organisations – feminist collectives, community organisations, environment and education collectives, cultural groups, mural painters and so on; which with Chavismo have grown, multiplied, and united around general support for the Bolivarian revolution.

Here is a sample of headlines and content coming out in the English language media, Venezuelan and Spanish language media, and on social networks:

Medium: “Pro-government motorcycle militias terrorize Venezuela; widely feared ‘colectivos’ are the regime’s plausibly deniable strike force”.

USA today:  “Aveledo said the government must rein in its armed paramilitaries, or colectivos, and end violence against protestors.”

Latin Post: “Venezuelan ‘colectivos’ continue violent riot across the nation… In the past the colectivos were responsible for organizing community and cultural events in the poorer neighborhoods of Venezuela during the late President Hugo Chávez’s 14-year reign. Despite their acts of service to the community, they rode motorcycles while armed with guns and threatened peaceful protestors who opposed the government.”

Huffington Post: “Pro-Maduro motorcycle gangs terrorise Venezuelans …”Colectivos” re-emerged under late President Hugo Chavez as ideological henchmen… well-armed colectivos …enforc[e] the will of the … Bolivarian government…have harassed opposition demonstrators and corralled votes for the Socialist Party at elections”.

Reuters: “[M]ilitant grassroots groups called “colectivos” which view themselves as the defenders of revolutionary socialism but are denounced by opponents as thugs”.

The Guardian: The “pro-government Chavista militias known as colectivos… the colectivos …enforce the lefist ruler’s [Chavez’s] government programs”. The article then quotes coup participator Leopoldo Lopez as an authority, “Maduro, you are well aware that what happened today was part of your plan. The wounded and the dead are your responsibility,” López tweeted. “The truth is in photos and videos that people took. The colectivos and the police were the ones who shot.”

El Universal: “Collectives denounced for being present in Colinas de Bello Monte …motorbike riders belonging to collectives and PDVSA jeeps circulated in the area in order to intimidate protestors”.

El Nacional: “50 vehicles destroyed by …collectives” and “Collectives could be involved in 12 homicides

Venezuela Al Dia, “Collectives in Palaima use women as shields in order to escape”

Marti Noticias, “The balance [of deaths] by the collectives

La Verdad “Collectives beat up father and son and later hand them over to the GNB

Reportero24 “Violence: the collectives, order, and Chavista terror in Venezuela

Reporte Ya “Collectives kidnap Belinda Alvarado in La Trinidad, threaten to rape her” 

Leopoldo Lopez, “How to have dialogue if the collectives and some soldiers… attack housing with elderly women and children [inside]”

There’s even a new wiki article on the colectivos  which defines them as “militant groups” that support the government and the revolution, and attack the Venezuelan opposition.  All of the articles sources come from this year, yet the writers claim the term has been used since the 1960s.

The aim behind inventing this idea and demonising Venezuela’s social organisations is to dehumanise activists, delegitimise the revolution (faults and all), and justify any current or future violence or repression towards us. Further, demonising the victims humanises or legitimises the aggressors: the far right, violent sectors of the opposition. Demonising creates an enemy, simplifies it, eliminating any need for complexity, context, analysis, or comprehension.

The colectivos term has infiltrated opposition discourse to the point where most committed supporters blame anything bad or violent on “the collectives”, even using “the collectives” to justify the violence perpetrated from the opposition barricades as “self defence”.

Where previously everything, even the drought or the actions of big business, were Chavez’s fault, now it must be “the collectives”. Now that Chavez is gone and the opposition still hasn’t got its electoral victory, they have realised its not enough to call the current president a “dictator” and belittle him because of his lack of formal university education, they need to demonise the active and organising people too. Because they aren’t going away.

The demonisation of Cuba and the racism directed at Cubans by opposition leaders and supporters is part of this, though it goes back further in time than the last two months of aggression.

Meanwhile, the violent opposition groups attack and destroy the symbols of the Bolivarian revolution: community televisions, the housing mission (yesterday), the environment ministry, ambulances (today in Merida), public transport, PDVSA trucks (today), blocking roads from farming areas to urban to prevent goods from being transported (in Bailadores), burning food trucks, and much more. Their aim is not just to intimidate, but to stop government institutions and social organisations on a practical level from getting on with other things. The violent opposition sectors are not farmers, bus drivers, teachers, producers of anything, builders, etc, so they can’t strike in order to bring things to a halt, they can only use violent barricades to stop others from working. 

Interview: Fabricio Martorelli, Tatuy TV collective


Fabricio Martorelli (Tamara Pearson /Venezuelanalysis.com)

VA: What does colectivos actually mean in Venezuela, and how have collectives evolved over the last decade?

Martorelli: The word ‘collective’ has different uses, but basically it’s any gathering of people that wants to resolve certain conditions that they have in common. There are big and small collectives, there are left wing ones and right wing ones, they can fight for a single issue or for a political project, and there are currently many which aim to challenge the capitalist model. A colectivo is also a bus- a collective form of public transport.

While collectives have always existed- here, and in other countries – ever since people started to meet in order to struggle together, they have often been invisible and their proposals ignored. Over the last fourteen years in Venezuela social organisations have been recognised, and their power to solve things in a collective rather than individual way has taken off.

The historical enemy has realised that beyond the government and the PSUV and the public institutions, the legacy of Chavez is active struggle and the logic of popular (people’s) organisation. With Chavez, social collectives started to have a common identity, to form links with each other, and their struggles too – the rights of indigenous peoples, of communities – became more visible. Once they achieved some demands, they would go on to fight for other aims. They have become stronger, and that’s why the right wants to criminalise them. The violent groups have a message of hate, terror, fear, and they are violent against anyone who threatens their dreams of a comfortable life.

VA: What does your collective do, and what has been the impact of the current situation on its work and organising?

Martorelli: Tatuy is a community television station in Merida. It is a collective of compañeros who have chosen the media war as their area. The private media has made us stupid, dominated us, and we think that through communication we can educate ourselves and free ourselves. Tatuy contributes to this together with other collectives, and we are linked to many of those through ALBA TV, a network of community and alternative media. We show what the private media won’t, what CNN doesn’t.

For years our work has been devalued, even by the public or official media. But in the current situation we have managed to inform the country, and even the world, about what is happening in Merida. We’ve received a lot of support, we’ve been called by a radio in Mexico, movements in Uruguay, and there’s been recognition of our work. But even if  in the future the current situation goes away, we still want to be taken into account, taken as seriously as we are now.

One compañera of ours can’t get here [to the Tatuy offices] because of the barricades, still. She’s been threatened and her violent neighbours know who she is, so she is working at home and under a lot of tension. Another time, one of our camera people was attacked by opposition protestors while filming. However, we can’t stop working, our responsibility to society is to communicate what is happening.

At the start of this year we thought it would be an important year because without any upcoming elections, we would be able to have an internal struggle against the reformist tendencies and to deepen many of the revolution’s achievements. But the reality has changed, we’ve united to reject the fascism, and it’s become a year of struggling against fascism.

If the fascists were in power we wouldn’t be talking about the dozens of deaths we’ve had so far, we’d be talking thousands. And that’s not paranoia, that’s a historic reality – we’ve seen examples in Chile, in Argentina under that dictatorship. The aim then, of this demonisation is to justify our elimination  if these violent groups came into power.

VA: Nevertheless, some armed groups who claim to support Chavismo do exist; who are they, what do they do, and how big are they?

Martorelli: There are a very small number of people organised into collectives who are trying to confront this situation [of barricades, violence, destruction etc], sometimes using force. People are tired of having road blocks. Right here in this building there are primary school classes because the children can’t get to their school. But the force used by this small number of people, the actions they take to remove barricades, could never be compared to the violation of human rights committed by the violent opposition groups. Those groups have taken a few photos of this [the force used against the barricades] and they publish those photos and try to create the impression that all collectives who support Chavismo are violent. But in reality, our ideas and our organisation are our weapons.

There’s been an open debate and a historical debate among the left here, and sometimes there’s been a fetishising of armed struggle. There have been many experiences, many legitimate struggles against dictatorships in Latin America, at times when social struggle wasn’t allowed [making armed struggle necessary].  But there are a few people here who don’t represent the workers, farmers, more the lumpen sectors, as Marx would say, who try to take justice into their own hands, on their own. These people are isolated, and we reject such behaviour, in our context where the state isn’t repressive. But the media tries to make out that we are all like them.