Photo: Notesreport retrieved.
The Bolivarian Revolution has been abandoning the model of “competitive authoritarianism” for a while now, entering into a system of “hegemonic authoritarianism with totalitarian traits.” This brings a tide of decisions bent on increasing and perfecting the government’s control over its citizens.
The patria system (patria.org) and the carnet de la patria are part of this social control strategy that the regime has been trying to implement in the country for over a decade. See, the attempts to create a system in which citizens are forced to inform on their neighbors’ political activity, especially if they oppose the regime, go as far back as the Framework Law of National Security (2002) and the repealed Law of the National Intelligence and Counterintelligence System (2008).
Although criticism of la Ley Sapo (as the Law of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is commonly known) made Hugo Chávez repeal it just a few weeks after approving it, its main directives have been gradually applied until reaching the Network of Articulation and Sociopolitical Action (Raas), a social espionage structure much like the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).
The protests of 2017 and the electoral process of May 20, 2018, were the latest pretexts to consolidate these structures, to the point where, in recent weeks, the digital channels of the Socialist United Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have focused on explaining why the Bolivarian Revolution needs the Raas.
Although criticism of la Ley Sapo made Hugo Chávez repeal it just a few weeks after approving it, its main directives have been gradually applied.
The videos say, for example, that the Raas must work as a mechanism that Maduro loyalists can use to identify and report those who oppose their political ideals, calling them enemies. The Raas uses part of an already established structure, the Bolívar-Chávez Battle Units (UBCh), and their members are instructed to focus on four basic tasks:
- Identifying who’s their historic enemy;
- Strengthening the unit to face the enemy;
- Maximizing the will to fight against the enemy;
- Organizing and acquiring the necessary knowledge to defeat the enemy.
Maduro has focused on social espionage strategies since he formally took office in April, 2013. In 2014, he created the Center of Security Strategy and Homeland Protection (Cesppa), a body carrying most of the elements of the repealed Ley Sapo. Article 10 authorizes State security bodies to call on any citizen to provide information on their neighbors’ activities, without any judicial guarantees whatsoever.
The constant criticism on Maduro’s administration has made the Cesppa insufficient and, since late 2015, the regime has created email accounts and special phone numbers, “so that militants can denounce insiders, spies or dissidents, and purge the chavista formation.”
According to the study made by PROVEA, the Raas is the government’s attempt to establish a community network of surveillance whose entire goal is safeguarding the revolutionary process and turn common citizens into watchdogs, informants and accusers of anyone’s private and public activities.
The Raas is the government’s attempt to establish a community network of surveillance whose entire goal is safeguarding the revolutionary process and turn common citizens into watchdogs.
According to Marcos Ponce, coordinator at the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS), “The Raas is a complement to the repression system imposed by Nicolás Maduro through the Plan Zamora 200, which institutionalized the joint operations of military forces, militias and armed civilian groups as measures of public control or in any other scope they choose. This institutionalization is a confirmation of that repressive system that the Venezuelan State has been implementing.”
Moreover, he adds, the Raas is based “on the National Security Doctrine in which any citizen who tries to demand and defend human rights, voice their complaints against public management or politically oppose the government, are identified as internal enemies.”
Everyone must be an informer
The repealed Ley Sapo included the obligation of citizens to fulfill tasks of social intelligence at the authorities’ behest. Refusal resulted in prosecution. Although the Raas isn’t regulated (yet) by any law, its operation mirrors that of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. The CDR began operations in 1960, and although their structure includes a centralized management, in practice there’s a committee per street block. The chair and members of these CDR are responsible for giving security bodies all the available information about their neighbors’ activities (a task overseen by the STASI in communist Germany, since 1950).
Although the Cuban government claims that CDR members merely work on campaigns to support the economy and boost citizen participation in assemblies or elections, this social structure has been broadly denounced as a mechanism of collective surveillance or espionage against enemies of the Cuban Revolution, as documented in reports issued by Amnesty International. CDR members are involved in so-called “acts of repudiation,” where citizens suspicious of counter-revolutionary activities are abused, intimidated and attacked.
The repealed Ley Sapo included the obligation of citizens to fulfill tasks of social intelligence at the authorities’ behest. Refusal resulted in prosecution.
Although similarities between the Raas and the CDR are evident, chavismo denies that the Raas could be used for social espionage. According to Francisco Ameliach (former National Assembly Speaker, former Chief of Staff to Hugo Chávez and PSUV organization coordinator when they decided to enable phones and emails to inform on chavistas who didn’t like Maduro), the goal of the Raas “is coordinating in each community, each street, the actions between the State and the institutions of the People’s Power, to secure the highest rate of happiness possible for the inhabitants and reach the necessary levels of organization, knowledge and skill for territorial defense in the seven scopes established by the Constitution.”
To design the Raas, Ameliach says, they applied the “point and circle [theory] proposed by Hugo Chávez, defining over 13,000 reference points all over the national territory. Based on these, we determined a radius of operation for each point, identifying and recording, to the date (September 2018), over 42,000 communities and more than 215,000 streets or sectors that make up the Raas.”
Ameliach says that, “in view of new threats of aggression issued by the Empire and its lackeys, our nation implements the strategy for the defense of all the people in all scopes. The Raas are a fundamental force to succeed in each community, each street.”