“It is better to think of the police as providing support to the National Guard in the protests [as opposed to the other way around]. The National Guard has more experience and more training…and they aren’t restricted [in their use of force] like us…We can’t even defend ourselves.”
—National Police officer-in-training
[A previous version of this article was first published on http://anthropoliteia.net. See original article here]
Since protests exploded in Venezuela in February the National Bolivarian Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana, PNB) here have been intensely critiqued for using excessive force against protestors. And the excessive use of coercion employed in some sectors has been largely attributed to the government’s sanctioning and encouragement of that coercion.
However, the notion that the Chavista governments have encouraged the police to use force (or extreme amounts of it) would actually make little sense to National Police officers. This is because there is a widespread perception—among both police officers and the lower-class citizens where I work—that the force National Bolivarian Police officers can use is heavily, if not overly, regulated by the state.
Indeed, officers identify the sweeping police reform that was implemented by the Chávez government in 2008 as the catalyst of the “extreme regulations” on their use of force.  This reform both denounced heavy-handed police tactics and implemented mechanisms to limit officers’ use of coercion. But according to officers, in its zeal to limit police coercion, the reform has overly restricted their actions, making them weak and impotent in the face of violence.