As the Venezuelan government and the opposition enter talks aimed at resolving that country´s political, economic and security crisis, one of the sticking points will likely be the status of the Chavista militias known as "colectivos".
Those sympathetic with the opposition have long accused the colectivos of shooting at protesters, while President Nicolas Maduro and his Chavista sympathizers say that it is the protestors, and not the government or the colectivos, that have caused the violence. Forty people have died since the protests began two months ago.
In this video, we hear directly from colectivo members who deny the accusations.
“No one colectivo has come forward and said that ‘We did this.’ Because the truth is that we haven’t done anything,” said Dario Matute, colectivo commander of the Tupamaros in the 23 de enero neighborhood. “If a real confrontation between colectivos and the upper class took place, I think it would be catastrophic for them.”
Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, said the opposition will be reluctant to enter serious peace talks as long as the colectivos are armed.
"These armed groups run freely, and we can’t live in the country peacefully because of them," she said. "How can we believe in the peace talks that Maduro is calling for when he knows these groups, and even he can’t control them? The government should be controlling them.”
Venezuelan journalist Albinson Linares says that the deaths and accusations on both sides have caused “irreconcilable differences” among residents. Ultimately, how the government handles the colectivos issue could be key for any possible resolution to the crisis. “Do [the colectivos] belong to the government? The government says no. They say yes,” Linares said. “The big question is how far will they go, and if there will be control over them, and eventually a disarmament.”