The Eight Criminal Armies Supporting Venezuela’s Maduro Administration

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The editor of one of Venezuela’s most important media organizations alleged that a combination of security forces and armed groups linked to organized crime have helped the government of President Nicolás Maduro stay in power.

El Nacional newspaper editor Miguel Henrique Otero, who is currently in exile after being persecuted for opposing the Maduro government, said during a recent conference in Spain that political repression in Venezuela will intensify after the security operation that killed the dissident former police officer Óscar Pérez, El Nacional reported January 19.

According to Otero, there are eight armed groups that make up the Maduro administration’s muscle:

  • Armed civilian militias that are uniformed and trained by the army
  • The Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Boliviariana — GNB)
  • The Bolivarian National Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana — PNB)
  • The Bolivarian National Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana — FANB)
  • Cuban military advisors surrounding Maduro
  • “Colectivos,” the pro-government paramilitary organizations that operate throughout the country
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — FARC) 
  • Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional — ELN)

Otero said at the conference that the Colombian guerrilla groups “control four states in Venezuela and were not included in the Colombian peace agreement.”

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

These armed groups have a presence across Venezuela. In addition to the state security forces positioned throughout the country, there are also groups in the western, central and southern states of Merida, Lara, Aragua, Tachira, Miranda, Caracas, Carabobo and Barinas, among others.

In 2017, more than 150 people died at the hands of security forces during protests against the Maduro administration. Members of the National Police, National Guard, National Armed Forces and the colectivos all allegedly participated in the violence.

InSight Crime Analysis

In addition to being used as a tool to repress demonstrations related to the ongoing economic, political and security crises in Venezuela, these armed groups are also closely linked to organized crime. They participate and benefit from criminal activities such as drug trafficking, illegal mining, contraband smuggling, kidnapping and extortion with the unofficial approval of the government.

The National Guard controls contraband smuggling routes through the border into Colombia, and has helped give rise to the Cartel of the Suns, a shadowy group within the Venezuelan military involved in cocaine trafficking. The National Armed Forces, particularly the Army, control mining activities in the state of Bolivar and directly participate in the extraction and smuggling of gold, coltan, precious stones and other minerals, as well as drug trafficking.

SEE ALSO: Cartel of the Suns News and Profile

The National Police was created to operate throughout the country and is currently the most repressive force, with an extensive list of accusations against them for human rights abuses.

Police officials are frequently denounced and investigated for their alleged participation in kidnappings, extortion and drug trafficking. The force, which was created by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a personal army to defend the revolution, now engages in extortion and the illegal sale of food and other basic supplies that are scarce in Venezuela.

The colectivos, or pro-government armed groups, control large territories and live off extorting residents and business owners. They are also linked to kidnappings, drug trafficking, contract killings, theft and the contraband food trade in the shortage-ravaged country.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Contraband

There are no reports linking the Cuban police or military to criminal activities in Venezuela, but the presence of Cuban intelligence officers in positions reserved for local security forces has been widely criticized. Some media organizations link them to espionage, persecution and the detention of Venezuelan citizens.

The presence of the ELN guerrilla group and FARC dissidents in Venezuela intensified after former President Chávez assumed power. Both groups dominate important territories along the Venezuela-Colombia border, and for years have had a presence in some areas in central Venezuela, including the capital Caracas. They have been linked to officials from the Maduro administration who were named in a list of entities tied to drug trafficking maintained by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC), including current Urban Agriculture Minister Freddy Bernal and former Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín.

Rather than protect Maduro, these “armies” are more concerned with care of their own criminal activities. But that is why they have an interest in maintaining the status quo and ensuring the continuation of their businesses.

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