Venezuela: A Government That Acts Like A Gang & Works With Gangs

Since Hugo Chavez died in 2013, the country has been going nowhere except down. Venezuela has suffered from hyperinflation when oil prices plummeted in 2014 making the value of their currency worthless. With many people opposing the government, President Maduro has now decided to gain total power in the government and start a dictatorship. However, the government has been recently acting more like a gang and have been accused of working with actual gangs in Venezuela.

Today, millions of Venezuelans struggle to get food and basic products from stores that have so few already, although, government supporters have a less difficult time searching for products thanks to the Maduro regime. Due to the dangers of sitting in extremely long lines to just purchase basic products, some people begin to support the Maduro regime just so they can get those products. The government controls the food distribution, which means they know what goes to which store and are willing to share this information with supporters. Although, other reports suggest that the Venezuelan army actually control food distribution.

The most interesting aspect about the Venezuelan government is that they have supposed connections with actual gangs in the country that work for them. The most well-known gangs that have connections with the government are the Tupamaros and the Colectivos. Before, the Tupamaros, a far left Marxist group, were branded as urban guerrillas until Hugo Chavez took power. Then the Tupamaros started bodyguarding government VIPs, scaring political opponents, and organizing pro-government demonstrations after the National Assembly’s President allegedly contacted them. In return, the government supplies them with weapons. Today, the Tupamaros and the government have a strategic alliance with each other. The international community has suggested that the government should seek for foreign investment and better economic policies, but are against the gang’s ideological beliefs and the government doesn’t intend to lose ties with the Tupamaros. There’s not much known about the armed group, the Colectivos, but several members from the group were seen with Venezuela’s security forces violently attacking anti-government protesters with weapons and tear-gas and have been responsible for about half of the protesters who have died as of July 2017.

Venezuela’s government has recently been accused of treating their people poorly. Many opposition members have been jailed, placed under house arrest, or were held at intelligence services’ headquarters for months. At anti-government protests, security forces have been accused of shooting demonstrators with riot-control munitions, running over demonstrators with armored vehicles, brutally beating peaceful protesters, and staging violent raids on apartment buildings. Some protesters have claimed that Venezuela’s intelligence service identify protesters, take them away without warrants, and either torture or prosecute them in military courts for ‘violating’ international law. Maduro has also been known to fire government workers who speak against him.

In 2017, Maduro showed signs of creating a dictatorship when the Supreme Court stripped power from the National Assembly, a legislative branch, and gave it to the Maduro regime. Maduro planned to take over the National Assembly so he can draft a new constitution and gain total power. Since 2014, the National Assembly has blocked all laws that the judicial and executive court have attempted to pass, and it was due to the fact that the branch was dominated by the opposition party, who were against Maduro and his regime. It led the international community to condemn the action. Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor, a Maduro loyalist, publicly condemned the action as well. She called the ruling a sign of a “rupture in the constitutional order”, and a grave threat to the last bit of democracy in Venezuela. The secretary-general of the Organization of American States then called an emergency meeting with the members by citing the “Democratic Charter”, a pact that members signed in 2001 to pledge that they would adhere to democratic principles. After this action, they may expel Venezuela from the organization.

It seems like the only way to save Venezuela rests on the shoulders of the Venezuelan army. According to the Venezuelan constitution, the armed forces are supposed to be separate from being involved in politics. However, the movement that guides the Maduro regime, Chavismo, has been led by the military since the beginning of it. Today, officers or former military officers run 11 of the 32 ministries in the government, and 11 out of 23 state governors are retired officers. President Maduro has been known as a producer of generals since he took power.  Last year, he promoted 200 officers to the rank of general, which brings the number of generals in Venezuela to over 2,000, the U.S. only has about 900 generals. According to reports, some lower-ranking officers are dissatisfied with what the military has been doing and they don’t hesitate to publicly speak about it. In the armed forces, the army is filled with different groups both between and within branches of the Venezuelan military. Some help gangs with drug-trafficking by giving them access to ports and airports that they control. Besides the divisions in the army, the generals all share the same interest, saving the regime’s survival. Despite the fact that Venezuelans in the country are suffering from a food crisis and an economic crisis, the “government” has been busy appeasing to both gangs and the Venezuelan military, and there seems to be no sight of this crisis ending anytime soon.

See the Acts of CIACS

CIACS, which stands for Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Serguridad or the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses in English, is a group of criminal organizations based in Guatemala. Many of these groups were created after the incredibly violent 36-year long civil war, that took place in Guatemala from 1960-1996. During the war many high level intelligence and security personnel were trained in the government. One of these particularly infamous groups was the EMP, a group created to protect the president and his family. The EMP ended up often misusing their power to arrest and interrogate opposition and had strong and sinister ties to death squads. During the Civil War many of these intelligence, security and military groups ended up coming into contact with criminal groups. After the end of the Civil War many of these groups were disbanded, leaving high-ranking officials without jobs. Criminal groups then recruited many of these officials, with whom many they already had ties, creating groups with strong connections to government intelligence and security. Many of these groups then fought to prevent trials of war crimes, involving former military and officials.

These criminal groups or CIACS today are elusive and involved in a host of illegal activities including contraband, drugs, illegal adoptions and the creation of fake passports. They have become a sort of parallel government, using their skills and connections to corrupt the Guatemalan government, in particular their judicial system.

Some CIACS have a legal status but commit illegal acts and operate in secrecy. Other CIACS are embedded in complicated structures with political or business related goals and act as the intelligence or military department. While other CIACS join and break apart easily to complete certain tasks. The CIACS with the most power are those with their own private corporations or the ones involved with organized crime groups. The groups involved with organized crime tend to be heavily involved in local governments whereas, corporations have more ties to the federal government. Like the Sicilian mafia CIACS relies on weakness of state institutions, providing security, intelligence and elimination of competition for legal and illegal businesses. Their main task is to keep their impunity by having a malleable government that defies attempts of reform or modernization.

One of the ways CIACS maintains their impunity is through corruption of the judicial system. La Oficinita is one of the particular CIACS that operates within the Attorney General’s office. They have stopped cases from going to trial and their roles within security establishments had created an almost complete impunity. Famous examples have included former president Alfonso Portillo, who had strong connections to CIACS. Portillo was charged with embezzling money from the Defense Ministry’s pension funds but was suspiciously found innocent. Members of CIACS have been known to use their connections to get particular judges hired. One example is Terna X or three people, with strong connections to various CIACS, on the postulation committee for the Supreme Court. Terna X had tampered with the voting to get four judges elected, that were found “unsuitable” by the CICIG, or the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

Today the CIACS main threat to impunity is CICIG. CICIG is a commission started by the United Nations and the Guatemalan government to strengthen the government and justice in Guatemala while making CIACS accountable for their crimes. CICIG has had some trouble prosecuting elusive members of CIACS but in general they have raised awareness and have been able to reveal how widespread some of the criminal connections are. Raising hope among Guatemalans that CIACS involvement will soon dissipate.

Abu Sayyaf, A Government?

Abu Sayyaf, a guerilla group is centered around Islam and is based in the southern Philippines. It wants to separate from the leadership of the Philippines and seek a place where the Moro people can live. They are mostly known for high level illegal activities like the assassinations of high level government officials. These acts have earned Abu Sayyaf the name of the most brutal group in the Philippines. The groups founder, Khadaffy Abubakar Janjalani, traveled to Middle Eastern Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Libya. He studied the Iranian Revolution in 1988, and he met Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, where it is rumored he fought with him against the Soviet Invasion. This is where he was inspired to transform the Philippines into a Muslim state. Since their creation Abu Sayyaf has been operating under the pretense that they aim to turn the Philippines into a primarily Muslim state. They do this by committing violent attacks on tourists and well off Filipinos. To the naked eye this might appear as a guerrilla group terrorizing the country and bullying them into submission; However, Abu Sayyaf operates in a structured hierarchy, operating with branches of their group carrying out attacks based on each of the branches input. This means that Abu Sayyaf is actually trying to be more of a government, rather than just a terrorist group.

It all starts back at the creation of the group with the leader, Janjalani. Janjalani’s sole purpose of the group was to govern the nation of the Philippines under Muslim rule. Janjalani was known for being a preacher. He fought in the Soviet-Afghan war, and it is rumored that he got incredibly inspired at a meeting with Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda provided the group with the necessary resources and training to get off the ground.  After he died the gang separated into two factions, which were quickly extinguished when the leaders of both groups got killed. Since then the group is now in smaller subgroups, but connected by one man, Radullan Sahiron.

This can even be seen by their recent attacks. Fighting started in Marawi on the southern section of the island Mindanao, in 2017. They burned churches, jails and schools before taking bridges and main streets. The churchgoers and police were then beheaded. This seems like a clearcut guerilla act,  just looking at the killings, but this act shows that they can have the power to take towns for themselves,something that a well regulated militia can do. They are a segregated group, muslims in the Philippines, and they govern within their own group. The group is split up into several sections within its hierarchy. It is led by a group of generals, in a structure where the longer someone shows their allegiance to the group, the more power they have. This can clearly be seen with the newest leader elected, Sahiron. Sahiron was an original member of the Majilis Shura, a council of 14 generals who controlled major decisions. They also have a select leader, this would be the closest to the executive branch. The executive appoints major generals to help execute specific tasks. The executive, just like our president, has final say on military operations. They have their own military, which is grown by Abu Sayyaf’s own military scouts, who attend classrooms prayer sessions which draw right from the Koran, calling for the children to fight with the group.

With all these comparisons it is easy to see the similarity between any government and theirs. However, all this is undercut by the fact that they commit terrible atrocities that makes the group appear completely uncivilized to the public. This is why it makes the most sense for Abu Sayyaf to relate back to their roots, the Moro Liberation Front. The MLF is a less extreme group that shares the same values as Abu Sayyaf, but believes there is a more less extreme way for the Philippines to recognize a muslim section of their country. This is why Abu Sayyaf should denounce ISIS and rejoin the MLF, for the better of their own group and the better of the Philippine people.

Abu Sayyaf appears to be a guerrilla group, blatantly attacking tourists and Filipinos for fame and fortune, but they do desire to become a government. Abu Sayyaf has a split leadership allowing them to check each other and let the group run the way that the majority likes. They do commit heinous acts like beheading, but this is only to gain respect from other countries and to let the group financially stay afloat. They use violence as a way to propel conversations towards letting the Muslims have their own state in the Philippines and the more attention they direct to the topic, the higher chance there is that they can establish their own country. Abu Sayyaf is a guerrilla group, but it is clear that they desire to become a country, no matter what the means, the reward is worth it.