At this site we’ve returned frequently to the subject of Venezuela, a once-proud land that was driven down the road to disaster by the late socialist caudillo Hugo Chávez and that, as we saw last week, is finally plunging off the cliff with his chosen successor, former bus driver Nicolás Maduro, at the steering wheel.
There’s one aspect of chavismo that we haven’t yet touched on, however. We’re speaking of the so-called “cooperating patriots” – in Spanish, patriotas cooperantes. On January 30, La Nación described them as an “army of informers” who serve the chavista government by seeking to “sow fear and prevent dissent.” How do they do this? By directing accusations at critics of the regime, who are then put under arrest.
An example: Reuters, in a January 29 article, cited the case of Rodolfo González, a retired pilot who was arrested in his Caracas apartment in April 2014 and accused of helping to organize anti-government protests. In March 2015, after being held in a windowless dungeon for almost a year without trial, he hanged himself.
On what evidence was Gonzáles arrested? A “cooperating patriot” had given authorities his name. That was it. No one had supplied proof of the charges; there had been no investigation; the only testimony against him was from an anonymous member of the “coooperating patriots.”
Another example: in the same month that Gonzáles was arrested, police officers banged on the door of another Caracas apartment, that of poet Balvina Muñoz in Caracas. When Muñoz answered, one of the cops shouted: “Give me your novel! The one you’re writing … Give it to me!” She handed them the manuscript, and after the men had examined it, they imprisoned Munoz for 11 months on a charge of “inciting social hatred and terrorism.” Munoz, the mother of two boys, was brutally beaten during her incarceration.
How did the police know about her novel? A young woman, it turns out, had approached Muñoz some weeks earlier, pretending to be an aspiring writer seeking her advice. After the young woman had gained Muñoz’s trust, the author told her in confidence about her work in progress, a novel about participants in anti-Maduro protests. The young woman later turned out to be a cop.
As a result of such allegations by “cooperating patriots,” dozens of members of Venezuela’s political opposition have been put on trial not for actual offenses but for supposedly being willing to commit crimes. (Orwell, of course, had a name for this: Thoughtcrime.)
Not only, moreover, are the crimes of these accused felons imaginary; the accusers are anonymous, identified in court documents not by name but as “cooperating patriot,” “witness,” or “informant.” The withholding of identities is justified as necessary in order to protect the informers against reprisals. No consideration, of course, is given to the defendants’ right to confront their accusers. Indeed, the whole practice is in violation of Venezuelan law, which requires that accusers be identified.
It’s believed that there are two types of “cooperating patriots”: the “amateurs” are just ordinary members of the public looking for a governmnt payday in return for an anonymous accusation, while the “professionals” are members of state security. Madoro, for his part, has encouraged his subjects to join the ranks of the “cooperating patriots” in order to ensure Venezuela’s continued peace and stability. At a recent rally, Maduro shouted: “I call on the Venezuelan people to be alert and to turn ourselves into millions of cooperating patriots to guarantee the country’s peace!”
Maduro flunky Diosdado (“The Godfather”) Cabello, whom we’ve met before on this site, and who’s largely responsible for another appalling chavista phenomenon, the “Bolivarian Circles,” has also cheered on the “cooperating patriots,” praising them for their “solid moral principles, love for the fatherland, and loyalty toward the President of the Republic and the supreme commander Hugo Chávez.” (Just as Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, remains the official leader of North Korea, Chávez, even after his death, is still referred to by chavistas as if he were alive and still running the country.)
Whether or not the number of “cooperating patriots” has increased, the frequency of legal actions resulting from tipoffs by them has certainly risen dramatically in the last couple of years. Before 2013, accusations by “cooperating patriots” resulted in fewer than a dozen court cases; in 2014, the number of such cases exploded.
Alejandro Salinas, a Chilean lawyer and human-rights activists, has described the “cooperating patriot” as “a nefarious figure for democracy.” That’s putting it mildly.