Weeks into the crisis of power plaguing Venezuela, reports are beginning to circulate on armed gangs attacking those in opposition to the current government.
According to international media, groups of masked motorcyclists were seen arriving in small towns along Venezuela’s border with Colombia.
Typically attackers respond to demonstrators protesting against the autocratic President Nicolás Maduro. With pistols, they initially fire warning shots in the air to scare away participants. They then form roadblocks to shake down dissidents and, late into the night, prowl debris-strewn streets to patrol for more “enemies of the state.”
Most recently, the Maduro-backed gangs, called colectivos, conducted an all-out assault in the north-western city of San Antonio del Tachira. The men terrorized groups of thousands who tried to usher humanitarian aid into the country from Colombia. According to reports, the men brutalized the residents that had gathered near the international bridge where food and medicine were waiting.
The tactic of deploying the colectivos is an old one for the Maduro regime. Back in 2017, the last time mass protests erupted against the government, the same motorcycle-mounted gunmen were unleashed to put down demonstrations. Reports from the spring of that year describe bikers in uniforms of red jackets and dark clothes, confronting thousands of protesters in Caracas. They would begin with crowd dispersal weapons such as tear gas. After that they would open fire.
While the government maintains a passive, plausible deniability, the colectivos are in fact armed and fully sanctioned by the Maduro government.
As government-sanctioned violence against civilians continues to increase, it will only bolster the demands from Venezuela’s opposition that the international community consider military intervention to oust Maduro.