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
“It is better to think of the police as providing support to the National Guard in the protests [as opposed to the other way around]. The National Guard has more experience and more training…and they aren’t restricted [in their use of force] like us…We can’t even defend ourselves.” –National Police officer-in-training
“It makes no sense! You go into a Chavista’s house and Chávez and Maduro’s faces are everywhere but you open their fridge and it is empty! Empty!” This was the passionate reaction I received from an acquaintance I was chatting with yesterday when I commented that protests in Caracas have not seemed to receive support from popular sectors in the city.
Images of burning tires, masked youth, and clashes between citizens and state security forces have accompanied almost all news coverage of Venezuela for the past few weeks. And these well-documented protests and the government response to them have, as blogger Francisco Toro wrote, changed the political game in Venezuela for the foreseeable future.
To fully appreciate these changes, however, we need to also appreciate the geographical limits of the opposition protests. Taking into account where protests are not occurring, and why, is important in understanding what they represent for residents who do not live in the zones where protests have erupted.