As I left yesterday’s march, having reached our announced endpoint in front of the Fiscalía (the Prosecutor General’s headquarters), I made a point to note the total absence of law enforcement personnel in the area. There had not been a single policeman in sight for the entire route of the protest.
I started my subway ride back home acutely worried for those who remained gathered in front of the Fiscalía, since I know that, while there is safety in numbers, once these start to dwindle, smaller groups become a prime target for armed government vigilante thugs, locally known as colectivos.
I know this because I was victim of a colectivo attack while protesting a few months back, in Plaza Venezuela.
Back then we held a small street rally of no more than 200 attendees. All of the sudden, in a violent frenzy of motorcycle roars, dozens of male and female thugs encircled our group of unarmed demonstrators. They were armed, and uniformed in black battle gear and bulletproof vests. Before I could even process this scene, several had already jumped off their bikes and were brutally, indiscriminately beating any target in sight.
Though they did have prominently displayed handguns, they chose to carry out their savage attacks with steel rods, billy clubs, and using their motorcycle helmets as bludgeons. Not content with merely dispersing the protest, they systematically chased the fleeing victims, tackled and pinned them in teams of two or three, and hurt them. I looked one in the eye, and saw pure, unadulterated hatred.
Colectivos are the government’s parallel instruments of repression. They operate outside the bounds of institutions and accountability. They are recognized, even sometimes lauded by the government, and they do their thing in broad daylight. Iran has them and uses them, and now, so does Venezuela.
Leopoldo, María Corina and the opposition groups that called for yesterday’s protests are not at fault for the heartbreaking deaths that occurred. They are, however, either deeply naive in ignoring the very probable chance that colectivos would show up and kill protesters, or – more likely – tragically ill-prepared for such a scenario and just hoping for the best.
Either way, calling for a peaceful protest without comprehending and preparing for the full scope of what we’re dealing with is, I’m sorry to say, irresponsible and lazy. If you’re going to take the protest route, then you better do your goddamn homework. Successful non-violent resistance movements are a science. They involve tactics, strategy, training, and contingency plans. None of these were remotely hashed out for yesterday’s march.
I’m all for protesting and armar un peo en la calle, but we face a regime that shamelessly promotes vigilante terror squads and dutifully ignores human rights violations. We are not prepared to face these goons in the streets. Far, far from it.
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