CARACAS — The explosion this week of violence in Venezuela has again put a spotlight on militant grassroots groups called “colectivos,” which view themselves as the defenders of revolutionary socialism but are denounced by opponents as thugs.
A well-known colectivo leader was fatally shot during competing political demonstrations in Caracas, while opposition activists blamed colectivos for starting the violence in which two other people died.
Colectivo members have taken to state TV to call for calm and demand the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whom they accuse of inciting bloodshed.
Using the slogan “The Exit,” the United States-educated Lopez has for two weeks helped organize sporadic demonstrations around the country to denounce President Nicolas Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages.
The colectivos emerged during the rule of the late Hugo Chavez as the self-appointed guardians of his leftist policies.
From running security in their communities to drumming up support for government anti-poverty efforts, they function as an informal extension of the Socialist Party.
“The colectivos are paramilitary groups armed by the government and protected by officials in uniform,” Lopez said.
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