United Nations officials today lauded the commitment of Hugo Chávez to the cause of social justice, as the General Assembly paid tribute to the memory of the late President of Venezuela.
“History will remember President Chávez – a charismatic leader whose progressive policies brought Venezuela’s poverty rate down from over 70 per cent at the close of the 20th century to around 20 per cent today,” noted Assembly President Vuk Jeremic.
“Throughout his term in office, he remained committed to the cause of social justice, working hard to improve the lives of Venezuelans, especially the most underprivileged amongst them.
Venezuela is a nation rich with natural resources such as oil, gold, diamonds and other minerals. Yet, it is experiencing a crisis in which most people cannot find food or medicine.
In the past several months, there has been great social unrest in Venezuela. Venezuelans are going out on the streets demanding their basic needs, and storming delivery trucks and stores to get their hands on supplies. Their daily activities are disrupted by water rationing and electricity cuts, which have resulted from long-term neglect of basic infrastructure.
The bikers thundered up in a phalanx of red jackets and dark clothes, some with faces covered, revving motorcycles before a thousand protesters in Caracas. They threw tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. Then, witnesses say, they pulled pistols and fired.
Someone fell. Carlos Moreno, 17, lay sprawled on the ground, a pool of blood around his head.
“His brain matter was coming out,” recalled Carlos Julio Rojas, a community leader who witnessed the fatal shooting in Venezuela’s capital on Wednesday.
The uniformed men who shot Mr. Moreno were not government security forces, witnesses say. Rather, they were members of armed bands who have become key enforcers for President Nicolás Maduro as he attempts to crush a growing protest movement against his rule.
The groups, called collectives or colectivos in Spanish, originated as pro-government community organizations that have long been a part of the landscape of leftist Venezuelan politics. Civilians with police training, colectivo members are armed by the government, say experts who have studied them.
more below fold
Experts say the colectivos date to the early days of Mr. Chávez, who originally conceived them as social organizations to advance his vision of a Socialist revolution to transform Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods. Many had their own names, flags and uniforms. The government eventually handed them arms and security training as well, deploying them as a separate militia.
As the groups became more powerful, they exerted their own influence independent of the government, most notably in controlling organized crime like drug trafficking in Caracas barrios.
“They attack your neighbors when they are in food lines and are identified as opposition members, they attack store owners by making them pay extortions, they attack bakers by taking away part of their production which they later sell on the black market,” he said. “They are not true collectives, or political actors — they are criminals.”