More on those “Circles”

We’ve been looking at the “Bolivarian Circles,” Venezuela’s nationwide network of violent chavista terrorist cells that, ever since its founding in 2001, has been masquerading as a harmless chain of community-service groups. One of the most prominent figures in the Circles, who died in 2011, is deserving of special notice. Her name was Lina Ron, and she was widely seen as the very personification of what the Circles were all about. She was an anarchic, violence-happy woman who seems to have had some very serious psychological issues. Her favorite slogan was “With Chávez, everything; without Chávez, bullets.”

Lina Ron with Hugo Chávez

Ron became famous for setting fire to an American flag in a Caracas square shortly after 9/11. She went on in 2004 to found the fiercely pro-Chávez Venezuelan People’s Unity Party, whose members she herself characterized – approvingly, of course – as “radicals, hardliners and men and women of violence.” (The party was later folded into Chávez’s own PSUV.) In 2009, Ron led “a violent attack on the offices of the pro-opposition television station, Globovision,” for which even Chávez felt obliged to lock her up for a couple of months. Ron called herself the “ugly part” of the Bolivarian Revolution; after her death, a commenter on her El Universal obit called her the Revolution’s Joan of Arc.

There are also Bolivarian Circles in the U.S. Here’s one in Miami.

What kind of activities, you might ask, do the Circles engage in? The proper response to which is: what kind of activities don’t they engage in? A 2009 report stated that Diosdado Cabello (the thuggish National Assembly president whom we looked at back in May) and Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (whom we met a couple of days ago) “shared responsibility for training, arming and deploying paramilitary street forces under the guise of Bolivarian Circles.” In a 2013 book, Jeff D. Colgan noted that opposition critics of the Bolivarian Circles have been “violently persecuted”; he also reported on charges that the Venezuelan government had armed the Circles “in a bid to turn them into a fighting force that could sustain the government in the event of civil conflict.” In addition, Colgan pointed out that

Members of the Bolivarian Circles at a 2006 congress

The structure and purpose of the Bolivarian Circles bear a striking resemblance to similar organs of “participatory democracy” in repressive countries such as Cuba and Libya. It is widely suspected that Chavez modeled the Bolivarian Circles on the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). Like the Circles, the Cuban CDRs are designed to provide public services at a neighborhood level and to report ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity. In Libya, the equivalent organizations are called Revolutionary Committees, which like the Bolivarian Circles, establish clientelistic relationships with the state leadership. It seems likely that Chavez got the idea for the Bolivarian Circles from Castro and Qaddafi. In all three countries, the organizations served the same three purposes: build and maintain political support for the revolutionary regime; distribute public services; and provide information about potential threats to the regime.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Last year, the Wall Street Journal‘s Mary Anastasia O’Grady cited the Bolivarian Circles in chiding OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for their claims that the Maduro government in Venezuela is democratic. Documents in O’Grady’s possession, she wrote, showed “that Chávez had an active program early on to corrupt and politicize the military and to build a paramilitary within the Bolivarian Circles….Today organized snipers and gunmen on motorcycles roam the streets and kill with impunity.” It was clear, O’Grady underscored, that these goons were working for Maduro. “Any government that unleashes brown shirts to indiscriminately kill in order to sow terror among its opponents,” she pronounced, “does not qualify as a democracy.”

Alas, there are untold millions of people, both in Venezuela and around the world, who still don’t grasp that simple point, and who persist in clinging to romantic illusions about chavismo. To which we can only say the following: if you can look squarely at the facts about the Bolivarian Circles and still maintain those illusions, there’s no hope for you.  

Inside the “Bolivarian Circles”

Hugo Chávez

We’ve been looking at some of Venezuela’s more prominent chavista creeps. But no account of useful stooges in that poor put-upon country would be complete without a mention of the so-called “Bolivarian Circles.” In 2001, the year they were founded, The Washington Post ran a puff piece about them by one Scott Wilson, who was not alone in describing them as part of a benign, civic-minded movement by ordinary people across the country to help one another. This, after all, was the official story about the Circles. Wilson just fell for it. He began his piece as follows: “They do not look like revolutionaries, the mothers and grandmothers, waitresses and street sweepers huddled around a sewing machine, making gingham slippers and cloth baskets for Christmas sweets.”

circleTo be sure, Wilson acknowledged that for some anti-Chávez Venezuelans, the Circles brought to mind “Cuban-style revolutionary defense committees, designed to ensure fealty to the president’s populist agenda.” Yet Wilson, in his account of what he represented as a typical Circle meeting room, insisted that “aside from the poster of guerrilla leader Che Guevara on the wall, ideology rarely enters this room of swinging light bulbs, plastic furniture and scraps of colored cloth strewn on the cement floor.” Wilson even quoted a Venezuelan political science professor as saying that “[t]he idea that these circles could multiply and serve as centers of indoctrination and organization of a vast mass movement didn’t get off the ground.”

A 2006 Bolivarian Circles “ideological congress”

One wonders whether that professor was seriously misguided or was in fact a part of the chavista PR machine. For the fact is that even then, despite Wilson’s depiction of the Circles as essentially apolitical, Circle members were taking an oath to “completely dedicate [their] work to the Bolivarian ideology, to the popular organization, to popular mobilization, to popular power, to never abandon the struggle” and to “fight without rest for the defense of the revolution, even if I have to sacrifice my life, for the glory of Venezuela.” Let’s face it: it’s not exactly the kind of oath taken by members of your great-grandmother’s quilting bee. 

Anyway, that was just the beginning. By 2004, the BBC was reporting that the Bolivarian Circles, which by then had grown into a network of about 70,000 local groups, amounted in fact to an “underground armed militia” whose critics called it the “Circles of Terror.” Tomorrow we’ll get into the details, and meet one of the most prominent members of those terrorist circles.