In my last post I looked at the security force that is playing the most active role in policing the protests: the National Guard. While police officers overwhelmingly support the National Guard’s participation, there is second group that the police identify as “policing the protests” whose presence they do not condone: the collectives.
The collectives’ relationship to the state and state security forces has garnered much attention in the press since the protests began. Providing little evidence, recent news reports (the Wall Street Journal , the BBC, and AlJazeera to name a few) have suggested that the police are working alongside and in collaboration with the collectives to repress protestors. And this past week Human Rights Watch, though avoiding the term “collective,” published a report suggesting that the police and “armed pro-government groups” were in collusion with one another.
But National Bolivarian Police (PNB) officers describe this relationship quite differently, reporting that they must compete with the collectives for territorial control, access to arms, and even state protection. For them, their relationship to the collectives is one structured by competition, not collaboration. In fact, since the Metropolitan Police in Caracas sided with the opposition in the 2002 coup against Chávez, officers feel that the government trusts the collectives–ideologically aligned with the Bolivarian Revolution–more than the police to work the protests. Though the police as an institution is often defined by its ability to legitimately deploy force in order to protect the state’s interests, officers perceive the collectives as primarily designated by the state to fulfill this function.
In this post, I provide a brief summary of the collectives’ history and then describe how police officers talk about their relationship to the collectives. Continue reading