Venezuelan 'Colectivos' Continue Violent Riot Across Nation
As civil unrest and instability continue to split Venezuela in two, opposition groups now face even more pressure as government loyalists unload their firearms at them, Fox News reported.
Since the start of the nationwide protests against the socialist-led government in mid-February, at least seven people have been killed amid the gunfire while more than 30 people have been left wounded, according to Fox.
The gun-touting pro-government militants loosely known as "colectivos" are being blamed for the outbreak of beatings and intimidation throughout many Venezuelan cities while President Nicolás Maduro has sat by and allowed the violence to run rampant in his country.
In the past the colectivos were responsible for organizing community and cultural events in the poorer neighborhoods of Venezuela during the late President Hugo Chávez's 14-year reign. Despite their acts of service to the community, they rode motorcycles while armed with guns and threatened peaceful protestors who opposed the government.
They began taking more extreme measures once the anti-government protests began last month. The colectivos have mainly been targeting college students and killed the opposition's prominent student leader, Daniel Tinoco, by shooting him in the chest March 10 in San Cristóbal.
On March 19, roughly 40 masked men and women government supporters went to the Central University of Venezuela's architecture academy and excessively beat at least 12 students.
Human Rights Watch Managing Director Daniel Wilkinson told Fox that the violence has spread nationwide.
"This is just one example of a practice we've seen across several states, of security forces not only tolerating armed group of civilians who attack peaceful protesters," Wilkinson said, "but even collaborating with these gangs when they commit beatings, arbitrary arrests and other abuses."
Maduro blamed the violence on the oppostion groups and told his supporters on March 9 that the groups are armed and have been causing the violence on the streets.
"There are violent armed group in the streets," he claimed, adding, "and they are all from the right."
Maduro and Vice President Jorge Arreaza also encouraged pro-government motorcyclists to attend a Feb. 12 rally and a "peace conference" on March 13.
During the peace conference, Arreaza said to his guests that the CIA had been leading a propaganda campaign discrediting the colectivos.
"If there has been exemplary behavior it has been the behavior of the motorcycle colectivos that are with the Bolivian revolution," he said.
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