Early last month, five men were shot dead in a high-rise building at the center of Caracas during an early morning standoff between special intelligence police (CICPC) and armed members of revolutionary collectives. While the circumstances leading up to the event are still unclear, the so-called Quinta Crespo Massacre created a ripple effect within the Venezuelan left that quickly highlighted a growing rift between the revolutionary left and the Bolivarian government.
While the term “collective” in Venezuela can refer to any organized group, usually urban, many of those around today were autonomously organized during Hugo Chavez’s presidency to protect the revolution, its peoples, and its ideals. Others, with similar aims, have been around for decades and were linked to urban guerrillas in the 1980s.
The majority of Bolivarian government officials have been historically reluctant to show support for those few collectives who defend their right to bear arms.
Immediately following the story’s release, leading pro-government publications were quick to demonize the five victims at Quinta Crespo, repeating Interior Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres’ claims that they were known criminals using the collective as a front.
The Revolutionary Secretariat of Venezuela, a grassroots organization, tweeted that evening, “We cannot say that criminals, infiltrators, murderers and kidnappers are revolutionaries. We support the actions of the CICPC and the government.”
Only the most cryptic information has been released about the victims themselves. But the Secretariat’s very description of “infiltrators” is exactly how a large section of the left-wing have long seen the CICPC and other rotted branches of national security forces within the revolution.
Two weeks after the shootings with tensions on the rise, a large group of collectives set out to march on Caracas to demand justice, and call for an intervention at the interior justice ministry. The group was blocked from marching for “security reasons.”
Just as the pot was about to boil over, former vice president and renowned journalist Jose Vicente Rangel, whose work generally follows the state narrative, appealed to the government in a fierce editorial.
“The way in which functionaries of the CICPC assassinated five militant chavistas, members of a collective, instead of detaining them and notifying a public defender, proceeded to gun them down in front of their families… it’s something unacceptable in democracy. [In regards to] the excuse that they were criminals… What judicial authority determined them to be so?” Vicente Rangel wrote. “These grave occurrences in the country… obligate the government to adopt exceptional measures, to impede metastasis. To stop the spread of impunity.”
As though on cue, President Nicolas Maduro surprised the nation that evening by removing Rodriguez Torres from his post as interior justice minister, though he assured him he’d be called back to serve elsewhere after a brief respite.
The former minister had spearheaded the Civil Disarmament Plan to combat crime, with the intention of reducing the number of firearms per capita, which some estimates have placed at 1:1. However, the disarmament operation led to an upswing of security forces in the barrios, causing some left-wing critics to consider it a militarization of those poorer neighborhoods.
Political analyst Roland Denis responded to Maduro’s decision with an article entitled; “Popular Victory: Finally a Minister is Worth Less than the Lives of Massacred Popular Fighters.” In his response, he applauded Maduro’s gesture which, he said, decidedly set him apart from the previous Fourth Republic administration, during which intelligence officers and policemen acted with impunity.
Still, Denis wrote, “In contrary to what this [Rodriguez Torres’] pacifist manual says – as better armed the people are and as disarmed the oppressive structures are, starting with the state, the closer we are to victory.”
While others took less issue with the disarmament plan, many public figures followed Denis and Vicente Rangel in recalling recent incidents of impunity and joined in the chorus demanding a more just police force – something Chavez had promised to deliver.
The simultaneous uncovering of two policemen who assisted in the murder of young deputy Robert Serra last month set the stage for Maduro’s response. The Venezuelan leader announced last Sunday that a “revolution” of the police and a “purging” of security forces was needed.
Whether Rodriguez Torres’ replacement had been long planned or in response to the Quinta Crespo operation, it’s hard to be sure. The opposition responded predictably, however, as outlined by Argentine journalist Fernando Vicente Prieto in a 30 October essay.
“Right wing media oscillated between condemning those “violent collectives,” thereby reinforcing the habitual criminalization of popular movements, and attacking the government for the violence of the operation,” Vicente Prieto wrote. “Without exception the [media’s] objective was to illustrate the idea that “the chavistas are killing amongst themselves.”
For a person who subscribes to this belief, it’s almost impossible to grasp the significance of such events for the majority of government supporters. In the past year, crackdowns on crime and smuggling have seen a definite drop in both. However, as the government casts a wide net, setting up checkpoints on public transportation and in the barrios, the kingpins of crime roll by in sleek cars while police turn a blind eye.
Considering their links to the Bratton group and previous administrations’ brutal criminalization of poverty, today’s opposition leaders are more preoccupied with lambasting the government’s attempts to reduce crime rather than consider the effect those methods might have on popular classes.
But the left recognized the ghostly significance of the Quinta Crespo shootings and seized the moment to rally for change.
It is a testament to the bond that still exists between the government and the masses that from the aftermath of a disaster such as Quinta Crespo comes a promise for police reform; a fresh attempt to banish impunity to the days of the Fourth Republic.
However, by purging security forces of corrupt officials, the government is pledging to dismantle some of the most powerful mafias in the Caribbean region. It is said that Robert Serra’s guard sold him out for a quarter million dollars, which begs the question; who paid the quarter million?
It’s unlikely, contrary to what the right-wing media would have us believe, that the young deputy’s death was a simple act of chavistas killing chavistas. Those leading the purge and revolution of Venezuela’s police force may find that the overlap between civil security and political stratagems is greater than they imagined. What happens when you go after the kingpins?
The following article reviews the background of the person picked by Maduro to lead the police revolution; ex-policeman and former mayor of Caracas, Freddy Bernal. The second article is by Freddy Bernal himself, who attempts to clarify the role of collectives in revolution.
Freddy Bernal to Lead a Police Revolution
Horacio Duque/ aporrea.org
The socialist leader and PSUV deputy, Freddy Bernal, has been designated by president Nicolas Maduro as the chief of the Presidential Commission for the transformation of police bodies, and the construction of a new police model.
The measure comes after various events that have left a big impact on the nation. I am referring to the massacre at Quinta Cespo, on the 7th of October of the current year, during which five members of the collective [named] the 5th of March were assassinated in cold blood, in the Manfreddi building, by members of the CICPC. Close behind were the denouncements made by leading public figures concerning that bloody affair, the replacement of Minister Rodriguez Torres of his senior government office, and the immediate destitution of the CICPC’s inner ring.
Freddy Bernal is a recognized leader of the socialist Bolivarian revolution. His trajectory indicates that in 1992 he joined other police officials in the revolutionary struggle spearheaded by commander Hugo Chavez. He formed part of the MBR-200 [Chavez’s first political party] and later joined the Fifth Republic Movement. He was part of the Constituent Assembly of 1999 and was the mayor of Libertador [Caracas], where he managed with transcendental success policies favoring the most vulnerable groups of society. He also led the resistance against the 2002 coup, headed by “Pedro Carmona the Brief.” [Bernal] is a community figure very much appreciated by most citizens, and the object of class hate by ultra right-wing groups and the secret services of the imperialist North American state.
He doesn’t have it easy in the role that’s been given to him by the chief of state. The violence, insecurity, impunity and inefficiency in police bodies are complex phenomenons, which have a destabilizing effect on 21st century Venezuelan society. From what we can surmise, numerous segments of the police apparatus have rotted completely, and are infested with corruption and criminality. The police system and detectives are, if you will, a symbol of the old oligarchical state that refuses to disappear. The positive reforms made by president Chavez, such as the creation of the National Bolivarian Police [PNB] and the Experimental University of Security [UNES] are nevertheless entities that continue to present severe distortions and divestments which subtract legitimacy from the state. The local and state police, along with national bodies in charge of judicial investigation, are perceived as mechanisms in the service of powerful mafias who have gained control of them through bribes and side businesses.
[He’s been given] six months, from 1 November 2014 to 30 April 2015, to advance all the necessary actions which will permit a radical shift within the state’s police forces. President Maduro has said the work must be done hand in hand with the people, with punctual results. We hope this will be so.
Bernal has said that a re-founding of the police institutions and investigative bodies is required so that an efficient system, with qualifying skills and impeccable ethic, may respect and guarantee the fundamental human rights of citizens.
The first task, which cannot be delayed, is the immediate purging of the corrupt elements that have infiltrated police institutions. Another is to raise the professional capabilities of the police. And the most important consists of organizing a community body, a neighborhood police, which may truly ensure the prevention of crime.
In any case whatever comes of the Commission’s work, it cannot be another violent monster that features massacres and cruel treatment to the defenseless people.
Good luck in this colossal undertaking. The enemy lie in wait and are preparing an ambush to impede this change.
What are the Collectives? An Indispensable Clarification
Freddy Bernal/ aporrea.org
In the desire to hide their intentions of maintaining the system of domination, deceitful language is one of the most effective weapons that the forces of reaction make use of to mislead majorities. The conjurers of the 11 April [2002 coup attempt] snuck in beneath the cloak of a supposed “civil society”; conning a good many Venezuelans into making them involuntary participants in the slaughter with which they wanted to justify the fascist coup. Once the plot was crushed by the people and Bolivarian soldiers, the term fell into disuse for those that named themselves as such, as it recalls the overwhelming defeat and the diabolic media machine that supported it.
After this, we revolutionaries became “officialists” [i.e. “the establishment”], and the counterrevolution became the “opposition”. That the media in hands of the oligarchy have coined these words into everyday use isn’t any simple thing. Such terms refer us back to the now overcome Punto-Fijo Pact [in reference to the political agreement which structured the pre-Bolivarian political system], in which turns were taken in government over four decades. Five years in “officialism” and five in “opposition” was the greatest possible change in the adeco-copeyano political system [in reference to the two dominant parties of the pre-Bolivarian period]. But this time there is a big difference, which is that the Bolivarian people will not conform themselves with taking turns in the management of the state: they arrived in government to transform it and undertake a revolution. Thus we see how the right-wing, thanks to the help of their informative apparatus, with the simple use of the re-signifying of language, distorts the great historical goals that we have proposed ourselves. Despite the nest of selfish egos in which they debate, it’s a mistake to underestimate the capacity of the right to advance by manipulating consciousness and muddying our direction. Let it be clear, we are revolutionaries, which is very different and much more than being “officialists”.
I think the above reflection is necessary to refer myself to the so called “collectives” and the way in which for years the counterrevolution has distorted their image and concept. Our enemies, whatever the political color or spokesperson of the tens of factions into which they are divided, try to criminalize the organized revolutionary people. In the image that they want to impose, “collective” (the same as with “communal”) is synonymous with criminal violence, disorder, death, terror, and illegality. These are precisely the words that come to mind when thinking of Leopoldo Lopez and the pro-guarimbero mayors [in reference to the violent opposition unrest and street barricades which occurred earlier this year] that are being judicially processed for conspiring against the country’s peace. This is just what the young Lorent Enrique Gomez is being charged with, on various videos as evidence, and who Capriles, Chuo, Ledezma, and Maria Corina Machado [all opposition figures] defended so much.
The trick belongs to the imperial media laboratories. They accused Muammar Gaddafi of attacking his people and were the slanderers that made the bestial genocidal invasion of Libya possible. The resistance of the Palestinian people is accused of terrorism by the Zionist occupation that has massacred thousands of innocent people. The same in Syria, with the recognized terrorists of IS, who only yesterday were financed and and organized [by the imperial countries], who called them the “Free Syrian Army”. In the same way, the collectives are made responsible for every crime under the law, but those who most insist on this are the ultra-right, who a few months ago closed streets, destroyed public services and assassinated and wounded with impunity, with the complicit silence of the whole “democratic opposition”. It is an old trick, in which the pickpocket caught nicking a purse then scandalously accuses the victim of the crime to confuse and evade the exercise of justice.
However, what is a collective? The collectives aren’t those “armed chavista hordes” that the counterrevolution talks and tweets so much about. The collectives are groups of organized people that work to preserve, make effective and deepen the rights consecrated in the constitution. They dedicate themselves to very diverse ends: environmental, feminist, sexual diversity rights, educative, cultural, sporting, neighborhood, recreational, political or the defense of the nation, taking on their constitutional co-responsibility. They can be orientated by the government, one of the parties that support it, or be autonomous.
In 2002, to weaken us and develop the conspiracy, as they try to do again now, the Bolivarian circles were criminalized. They were called “circles of terror”, when they were only grassroots political organizations of street-level support, in times of permanent aggression against the Bolivarian government. I remember the sentence of the traitor General Damiani Bustillos (de facto Interior Minister of [coup president Pedro] Carmona): “We have located Freddy Bernal, leader of the Bolivarian circles, we’ll overturn stone in search of him”. That is how the leadership was also criminalized, justifying the selective assassination of those that had and have a permanent relationship with the grassroots of the chavista revolution. This is a malevolent practice of distorting the activity or profile of a leader (or grassroots movement) to cause fear or rejection, destroy it morally and then carry out their assassination when the opportunity exists.
In that fateful 2002 of the fascist coup, the oil shut down and the bosses’ strike, the Bolivarian circles were the a bulwark in the peaceful defense of the revolution, just as diverse collectives today are, in their great majority, committed defenders of the legacy of commander Chavez and the revolutionary government of Nicolas Maduro. Therefore the collectives are, in essence, any expression of the organized Bolivarian people.
One additional thing. A collective, or who forms part of one, is not characterized by committing crime, inspiring fear or attacking citizens: quite the opposite. The basis of their practice is solidarity, respect for living together and permanent work to achieve the supreme goal of the revolution: bring together the kingdom of freedom with that of need, or to use the words of the Liberator [Simon Bolivar], “produce the greatest possible sum of happiness”.
Translated by venezuelanalysis.com.
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