Jamaica’s political parties for years have used organized crime gangs as political street enforcers, allowing the gangs to engage in their criminal enterprises unmolested by law enforcement in exchange for the gangs aiding their political patrons around election time. It was very bad in Jamaica in the 1980s, but less so today.
The Jamaican experience of politicians allied with crime gangs is very similar to what we’re seeing now in Venezuela, particularly in Caracas.
The political gangs mentioned most frequently by the Caracas news media, and by the gang leaders themselves as they seek publicity, are 1) Tupamaros, 2) Lina Ron’s “motorizados,” 3) the Comando Alexis Vive, and most recently 4) La Piedrita.
There are other political gangs in the city like the “motorizados” who receive monthly stipends from Libertador municipality, Pdvsa, and until last November’s regional elections from the office of the Greater Mayor of Caracas.
But these four are the best organized, most cohesive and most active political gangs currently operating in Venezuela’s capital city. All four are based in 23 de enero or Catia in western Caracas.
They share several common features, including:
*An explicit popular Marxist revolutionary agenda, at least for public propaganda purposes.
*A self-appointed role as official people’s “defenders” of President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution.
*They receive money and weapons from the Chavez government.
*Their leaders reportedly formed their revolutionary “convictions” as activists and street enforcers associated with the Tupamaros, which is the “mother” gang from which other political gangs like the Comando Alexis Vive and La Piedrita have sprung.
The Tupamaros are the oldest political gang, chronologically. The group was created in the 1970s in 23 de enero. Originally, its stated purpose was to sweep 23 de enero clean of drug traffickers, armed bandits preying on the neighborhood’s residents and other criminal activities.
However, since President Chavez came to power in 1999 the Tupamaros split into two opposing factions, at least one of which is actively involved in drug trafficking in Caracas, controlling the “piedra” (crack) trade across the city.
Although the Tupamaros are based in 23 de enero, the gang’s two factions also have members in the Petare mega-slum who, among other gigs, provide protection services to to public sector constructions sites.
Caracas Gringo was a guest of the Tupamaros at a Christmas barbecue held in December 2005 at a public clinic the government was building on Calle Lebrun. The project contractor who paid for the barbecue said that if not for the Tupamaros, the area’s barrio residents would have stripped the clinic bare of everything before its inauguration.
The Comando Alexis Vive says it exists to defend the revolution, but the group’s members also traffic cocaine, bazuco and marijuana; and do express kidnappings, armed robberies and car heists for profit. A member of the group whom we spoke with denied this, but a day after our interview he was shot in the chest during a drug transaction in Catia. In 2007 and again in 2008, members of this group traded shots with Metropolitan Police units just outside 23 de enero.
La Piedrita recently has been the most active gang in terms of attacking political targets around the city. The group’s leader, who calls himself Valentin Santana, says he got his start in the Tupamaros but left that group in 1985 to form La Piedrita. La Piedrita has declared “war to the death” against Globovision, and says its members are prepared to die defending Chavez.
Santana claims he was persecuted and tortured repeatedly by AD and Copei governments in the 1980s and 1990s. But IMHO this is BS.
Santana also claims enmity against the Tupamaros, claiming the group is responsible for his son Diego’s murder in 2006 near 23 de enero. Santana claims Jose Pinto, who leads one of the Tupamaro factions, is associated with corrupt senior Metropolitan Police officials.
The president’s political party (PSUV) officially disavows La Piedrita, but in the past two weeks senior PSUV officials including Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez and Aristobulo Isturiz have defended the group’s actions.