La Piedrita, founded over 20 years ago in the 23 de Enero barrio by Valentin Santana, calls itself a “Social Collective.”
Social collectives are “…popular (people’s) socialist revolutionary movements that work to improve the lives of their members, all peaceful family men and women and children of all ages striving together cooperatively to create a socialist republic through the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Hugo Chavez,” according to a group that calls itself the National Revolutionary Secretariat and claims to speak on behalf of all social collectives in Venezuela including La Piedrita.
In fact, La Piedrita is an organized crime gang/urban terrorist organization that is armed, funded and officially protected through the black channels of the Chavez regime.
La Piedrita is known to cooperate closely with some of the Chavez regime’s worst hard cases, like PSUV National Deputy Freddy Bernal.
The group’s leader, Valentin Santana, has an outstanding arrest warrant for homicide since at least 2008. But law enforcement officials who know Santana’s criminal career say his unofficial rap sheet goes as far back as the Old Testament. Yet Santana roams Caracas freely, by all accounts.
La Piedrita has about 300 armed members, three of whom were charged with homicide this month by the Attorney General’s office in connection with the murder of a government security official and the theft of his sidearm.
There are close to 60 “social collectives” in the greater Caracas Metropolitan Area – defined roughly here as the region that extends from Caricuao/El Junquito to Petare/Guarenas-Guatire, and from the coastline of Vargas to the Tuy Valleys.
I won’t dispute that most of these “social collectives” probably are engaged in legitimate grassroots social work in the barrios where they have their headquarters. They are active in all of the Chavez regime’s “social missions,” and interact directly with many entities at all levels of the regime. They feed daily at the trough of the direct/indirect cash subsidies that the regime dispenses to its red congregation of faithful street-level revolutionaries.
But the “social collectives” are also President Chavez’s street-level shock forces. There’s a lethal strategic/tactical dimension to the “social collectives” that the Chavez regime and the homicidal leaders of the collectives deny – but it’s public record, thanks to La Piedrita’s unchecked and recently expanding depredations against the general public.
Bernal is one of the president’s top liaisons with groups like La Piedrita, Tupamaros, Alexis Vive Carajo, etc. Freddy, who back in the 1980s commanded the Policia Metropolitana’s (PM) Special Tactical Support (CETA) group before betraying his country by taking part in one of the failed coup attempts of 1992, has an old personal history with these groups.
Bernal was personally involved in deploying some of these gunmen in downtown Caracas on 11 April 2002. They only succeeded in murdering 19 Venezuelans and wounding over 100 more that horrible day because they were not well armed at the time.
But La Piedrita and other social collectives nowadays own arsenals of full-automatic assault rifles, hand grenades and other explosives.
La Piedrita also has official National Guard and police uniforms, credentials, even motorcycles and vehicles with official license plates and markings, according to news reports and multiple sources who live in 23 de Enero and along the San Martin Avenue and Nueva Granada Avenue areas where La Piedrita operates two furniture and home appliance stores in properties that the group reportedly seized by force. Readers in Caracas are free to check it out for themselves: La Piedrita’s name is displayed prominently at both “comercios.”
There also are persistent reports/rumors – which the Chavez regime has always refused even to acknowledge – that some collectives like La Piedrita, Tupamaros, etc. even have Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifles, large-caliber machine guns, mortars and shoulder-fired rockets stashed away against the day they’re needed to “defend” the revolution by slaughtering people indiscriminately.
La Piedrita and other social collectives operate with near-total impunity. The cops are terrified of these groups, and President Chavez supports these groups without reservation despite his occasional public criticisms of La Piedrita, in particular.
Sure, the arrest of three La Piedrita members on murder charges this month indicates that the regime does make some effort to control the criminal activities of these groups – but only when it absolutely has to do so.
The evidence against the three La Piedrita gunmen charged with murder during March reportedly is so strong that the case couldn’t be buried by chavista judges and prosecutors. But no one should be surprised if the three arrested gunmen are set free eventually because witnesses in this case almost certainly will recant or disappear, and other evidence will be lost, likely resulting in all charges being dropped.
But President Chavez doesn’t have effective total control over La Piedrita and the other armed social collectives. These groups are faithful to the revolution, but they also are fiercely independent and very protective of their own economic self-interests.
This was obvious recently when La Piedrita publicly labeled Mario Silva a “sapo” (informant) after Silva criticized the group on his “La Hojilla” program that is televised by state-owned VTV. Silva is one of three “journalists” – the others are Vanessa Davies and Alberto Nolia – who form part of the political situation room at Miraflores Palace. When any of this trio takes a position on anything, you can be sure it was vetted first by the Miraflores situation room.
Silva criticized La Piedrita because that’s likely what he was ordered to do by Miraflores, but La Piedrita bitch-slapped Silva immediately, basically sending the man in Miraflores an indirect message that La Piedrita supports Chavez but that Chavez should never try to impose his will on La Piedrita.
La Piedrita reportedly has been very active during the month of March in the neighborhoods near 23 de Enero. News reports, citing multiple eyewitnesses, report that over a two-week period during the first half of this month, at least four “pensiones” were raided by La Piedrita’s gunmen; one person was shot dead, a second was wounded, six were taken away by force, and several dozen roomers at the “pensiones” were robbed of their valuables and even their electronic and electric appliances including refrigerators.
La Piedrita’s gunmen arrived late at night on motorcycles and in National Guard vehicles in groups of 20 to 30 persons dressed in black, wearing masks, armed with assault rifles and accompanied by up to six individuals who wore National Guard uniforms and official credentials. They fired indiscriminately at anyone who protested. The shooting could be heard several blocks away, but not even one cop arrived on scene to investigate the gunfire until long after La Piedrita’s gunmen had consummated their criminal/terrorist raids and escaped into the night.
La Piedrita’s gunmen could have been involved in a hunt for rival gang members or informants. The group also could have been engaged in criminal activities to raise funds. But it’s just as likely that La Piedrita was conducting nighttime field training exercises under live-fire urban battlefield conditions. The cops probably were wise to stay away, since any patrol vehicles that showed up at the “pensiones” likely would have been shot to pieces in seconds.
But field training exercises for what purpose?
First, some numbers: La Piedrita has about 300 armed gunmen it can deploy rapidly anywhere in Caracas. However, there are about 60 armed social collectives spread around Caracas, including some two-dozen just in 23 de Enero, according to the National Revolutionary Secretariat.
Assuming that each of these collectives can deploy, say, 150 gunmen, we’re looking potentially at up to 9,000 gunmen positioned strategically throughout greater Caracas, who possess an arsenal that includes assault and sniper rifles and explosives, and whose main deployment vehicles are motorcycles and “camionetas” (SUV’s and pick-ups) equipped with official license plates and markings that identify them as National Guard, Sebin, PoliCaracas, etc.
Imagine the hellish chaos that these groups could create at numerous locations throughout Venezuela’s capital city by using tactics that likely would include armed roadblocks where vehicles and their drivers/passengers are abducted; targeted assassinations of the regime’s “enemies;” shooting their way into private single-family homes and multi-family apartment buildings where regime enemies reside with their families; attacking installations that are occupied by members of the political opposition; seizing physical control of strategic assets like large food warehouses (eg. Makro); random drive-by shootings; firing indiscriminately at anyone moving in those areas of Caracas that are not solidly pro-Chavez, but also attacking poor Venezuelans who dare to criticize the Chavez regime.