A video showing a notorious colectivo leader and alleged criminal embracing high-ranking officials in public provides further credence to the idea these criminalized armed groups enjoy full impunity while serving as paramilitary groups in support of President Nicolas Maduro.
Colectivo leader Valentin Santana posted a video on his Twitter account on February 25 in which he is seen greeting and embracing several officials including Erika Farías, mayor of the important Libertador municipality; Carolina Cestari, the First Lady’s former assistant and the current head of government of the Capital District, which covers half of Caracas; Ernesto Villegas, current culture minister; and General Fabio Zavarse Pabón, in command of all Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana — GNB) and army troops in the Capital District, who was recently sanctioned by the United States for the repression of demonstrations.
Santana is reportedly facing three outstanding arrest warrants for charges that include homicide. The leader of the La Piedrita ("Little Stone") colectivo, a pro-government political organization operating in Caracas’ 23 de Enero neighborhood technically under General Pabón’s responsibility, was singled out by the now-deceased former President Hugo Chávez himself, who in 2009 demanded that Santana be detained to face justice.
— Valentin Santana (@valentinpueblo) 25 février 2018
In a second video, the suspected murderer boasts the implementation of “the security ring of our Commander Hugo Chávez” by colectivos and "absolute loyalty to … President Maduro.” This recording followed joint security exercises between colectivos and government forces dubbed “Independence 2018” held on February 24.
InSight Crime Analysis
The latest recordings are further confirmation of the strength of the civilian groups that Chávez armed during his time as president, and the result of Maduro’s policy of continuing to encourage the armed militancy of partisan civilians. They also stand as poignant illustrations of the impunity enjoyed by criminalized colectivo groups that increasingly resemble political paramilitary forces.
Colectivos have long served as community-based armed support groups for the Chavista regime, and have become crucial for the political survival of Maduro. The president has increasingly handed these civilian groups with sovereign security tasks -- offering them military training and weapons and allowing them to carry out security operations alongside state forces -- effectively turning colectivos into a paramilitary groups.
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Parallel to their political activism, colectivos have greatly expanded their criminal portfolios to include extortion, drug trafficking and kidnapping. Yet, in return for their services and as the above recordings leave bare, these organizations enjoy full impunity, to the point where a wanted murder suspect is publicly greeted by a GNB general with policing responsibilities.