The Venezuelan regime needs street protests to become violent

An explosive report in El Nacional peels back the curtain on La Red: the government’s system for infiltrating opposition protests, turning them violent, and collecting intelligence in the process.

For years, groups of plain clothes regime agents have been easy to spot at opposition process, if you know where to look. Their role? To infiltrate opposition demonstrations, try to turn them violent, and pass intelligence off to the Interior Minister.

La Red is more like a system of informants structured and organized by Consejos Comunales at the local level: they’re about infiltration, first and foremost.

That’s what an explosive new story by El Nacional’s Hernán Lugo Galicia says. The Network (“La Red”), as the system is dubbed, plays a central role in dissolving concentrations and in occasionally attacking protesters with rocks, bottles and even fire guns. All of it under the police and military’s noses.

According to Lugo Galicia, The Network acts independently from Colectivos, the paramilitaries-on-motorbikes whose main job is intimidation. La Red is more like a system of informants structured and organized by Consejos Comunales at the local level: they’re about infiltration, first and foremost.

After identifying a promising protest focus and sending their agents, PNB and GNB officials contact “Network”, presumably under the authority of the Interior Minister, Nestor Reverol. Once deployed, Lugo Galicia reports, the plain clothes agents do what they can to push protesters towards violence.

Lugo Galicia may be overstating how wide The Network really is, and how organized. Our sense is that these are more a series of ad hoc arrangements by the police in each area than a single, cohesive national “network.”

Still, those groups are out there, and it makes sense that they should be.  

I’ve seen these kinds of group at work, and so has anyone who has participated in any protest these last three or four years.

The government knows that instigating small acts of violence is the quickest way to break up a march: all but the most hot-headed opposition activists get freaked out and go home when violence picks up, draining the protest of effectiveness and giving the authorities the justification they need for violent repression. In the fevered atmosphere of an opposition demo these days, it doesn’t take much to kick things off.

I’ve seen these kinds of group at work, and so has anyone who has participated in any protest these last three or four years. In Merida, they usually appear a few minutes after police forces show up, often throwing rocks and bottles at the protesters. One time however, they chased a group of students inside ULA’s med school and eventually ended up firing one of the campus buildings, all this under the State Police’s obliging sight.

At the same time, Network agents collect information about the movement of most opposition leaders around the country and send it back it to the Respuesta de Movilización Inmediata (REMI) a Social Intelligence system with direct communication to Miraflores and the PSUV situation room.

A different organization with overlapping goals, the Popular System for Protection and Peace (SP3 for its Spanish acronym) was also created by the Defense Minister to keep an eye on any situation that could potentially threaten the revolution. SP3 is more about monitoring than instigation, though.

The government sees clearly that a non-violent protest movement could badly destabilize it, while a violent protest movement will be easy to deal with.

It’s the groups that report to Reverol that are the real threat. In Caracas, some of these “pro-government para-police groups,” as lawmaker Dinorah Figuera calls them, are allegedly paid out of Caracas’ Libertador Municipality’s payroll, under the leadership of Mayor Jorge Rodríguez. Reports suggest they may have been involved in the assault on congress of October 23rd, 2016, and also in the attack on several lawmakers that marched to the General Attorney’s Office on Friday, March 31st this year to ask for the TSJ judges involved in last week’s controversial decisions to be fired.

The government sees clearly (more clearly than some in the opposition, sadly) that a non-violent protest movement could badly destabilize it, while a violent protest movement will be easy to deal with. Violent protests scare off the kinds of moderate, middle-of-the-road pro-democracy voices that the opposition absolutely needs to mobilize. Violence solidifies the state security forces’ cohesion, stabilizes the chain of command, and motivates agents in defense of the revolution.

The regime needs protests to be violent.

And so it has a plan to make protests violent. Obviously.

Juan Carlos Gabaldón

Medical doctor from Merida, currently studying Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine