As opposition leader Juan Guaido is preparing a US-sponsored coup in Venezuela, pro-government activists in the country are bracing for possible military intervention.
The activists — or colectivos — are demonised by the mainstream media and portrayed in the West as government-sanctioned thugs who harass the opposition with impunity. In reality, these collective-action groups help alleviate poverty in working class areas of Caracas, and have served as volunteer organizers in national elections.
If they do take up arms, it will be to defend Venezuela from potential armed intervention by the United States.
The story advances a recurring pro-Kremlin narrative painting the Maduro regime as facing an imminent US-sponsored coup.
The colectivos are not "demonised" by the Western media. These groups have been fiercely criticised by multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and the International Crisis Group (pp. 18-19).
The colectivos have served as a virtual appendage to law enforcement since the early Chavez years (p. 18), and they now control entire neighbourhoods of Caracas. Some colectivo groups are indeed engaged in state anti-poverty programs, but this has only helped them tighten their grip on urban areas whose dependence on government aid is the highest.
Among other things, the colectivos have been involved in extrajudicial killings, drug trafficking, grand theft auto, attacks on opposition media, violent suppression of anti-government protests, and election rigging.
In May 2018, the Organization of American States announced it would present the International Criminal Court with evidence of crimes against humanity perpetrated by pro-Maduro colectivos, including 131 murders between 2014 and 2017.
Amid nationwide power outages plaguing Venezuela since March 2019, President Maduro called on the colectivos to "defend the peace of every barrio," implicitly linking the blackouts to the opposition. The following month, the National Assembly of Venezuela designated the colectivos as "terrorists" for their "paramilitary actions of violence, intimidation, murder, and other crimes."