Chávez Militias Prepare To Fight Off U.S. Venezuelan army reservists are training
civilians, apparently to defend their country against a presumed U.S. invasion. But critics say President Hugo Chávez is building
a private army.
BY STEVEN DUDLEY email@example.com
Posted on Wed, Apr. 13, 2005
CARACAS - It began loudly, with a boombox blasting the calvary bugle through the
soft, early-evening air. The sound prompted 80 or so mostly young men and women, dressed in white T-shirts and black baseball
caps, to run to get into a tight military formation.
''Buenas noches!'' barked army reservist Sgt. Ricardo Nahmens,
dressed in camouflage, at the unarmed group gathered recently in the gravel parking lot in western Caracas.
of security and national defense! Buenas noches!'' the civilians responded in unison.
From street vendors to lawyers,
thousands of Venezuelans are joining militia units created by the government to fight off anyone -- especially U.S. troops
-- that tries to thwart President Hugo Chávez's socialist ``Bolívarian revolution.''
''We don't want a Yankee country,''
said Julimar García, a 29-year-old government clerk who has been training with the Popular Defense Units since February. ``If
they put their feet down here, we'll be ready to fight them off.''
Chávez critics charge the militias will be a virtual
private army at the service of the president, designed less to defend the nation than to tighten his domestic controls.
militias and expanded military reserves amount to a ''politicized version of the armed forces, 10 or 15 times bigger, identified
with the revolutionary process and subordinate to the president,'' said retired navy Vice Admiral Rafael Huizi, an outspoken
Chávez opponent. TAKEN CONTROL
Since his election in 1998, Chávez and his allies have won
control of congress and the justice and electoral systems. Awash in oil money, he has also extended health and literacy programs
to scores of poor neighborhoods, and recently declared himself a ``socialist.''
A former army lieutenant colonel who
led a failed coup attempt in 1992, Chávez also has placed his closest confidants in key military positions.
partly through the militias, he is seeking to revise the country's military doctrine and prepare it for ''asymmetrical war''
-- a fight between superior and inferior foes.
''The only way we have to defend ourselves is with guerrilla war,''
said Rafael Cabrices, the middle-aged leader of the new militia unit that was training under Sgt. Nahmens last month.
is made for guerrilla war,'' Cabrices added, observing the closely packed apartment buildings that rise up along the mountains
that surround Caracas, a city of six million people. ``They'd have to take it house by house.''
The ''they'' Cabrices
is referring to is the United States. In the past few months, tensions between the U.S. and Chávez governments ratcheted up
even as they maintained economic relations vital to both nations -- especially Venezuela's sale of about 1.5 million barrels
of oil a day to the United States.
Chávez regularly alleges that the U.S. government was behind an April 11, 2002,
coup that briefly ousted him from power and is now plotting to kill him and invade this country.
denies the allegations, notes that it publicly warned about the 2002 coup and says it is concerned about Venezuela's plans
for huge weapons purchases, including 100,000 Kalshnikov assault rifles, Russian helicopters, Brazilian warplanes and Spanish
U.S. officials also are wary of Chávez's extremely close economic, political and intelligence ties to
The creation of the ''popular defense units'' seems to fit in well with Cuba's long-avowed strategy of a ''war
of all the people'' -- a war of resistance by both military forces and a populace barely trained in guerrilla warfare and
sabotage but totally committed to the struggle.
Cabrices says that he has 180 militia recruits in his Caracas neighborhood,
but the government has announced plans to recruit and train in every neighborhood. Chávez is also calling for an increase
in the size of the army reserves, which currently number about 50,000 -- more than the estimated 32,000 regular army soldiers.
Together, the president has vowed, the militias and the reserves will eventually number in the hundreds of thousands
and be directly under his command.
Chávez opponents say that's nothing less than the creation of a private army at
the service of the president. ''This is a death sentence for the professional armed forces,'' said Huizi, who described the
militias as ``paramilitaries.''
Felipe Mujica, president of the opposition Movement to Socialism, said the goals of
creating the militia units was internal control, rather than the defense of the country against a foreign aggressor.
can you compete in a fair electoral process'' Mujica asked, ''if you're competing with a paramilitary structure'' aligned
with the government? A LOT TO LEARN
Watching the militias train on a night last month showed
clearly that those civilians will need a lot of training before they can fight in any war.
They had no weapons, and
there's no official word on when or if they will get some. None had any previous military training. Many were out of shape
and had trouble marching in a straight line.
And some didn't seem to know what type of war they were preparing for,
or why. When a visitor asked a few of them about asymmetrical war and guerrilla warfare, they seemed befuddled. And their
information on the U.S. invasion that Chávez is constantly predicting is cloudy at best.
''We hear so many rumors,
we don't know what to believe,'' said Lucy Arrollo, 35, a preschool teacher. 'But it's like the saying, `When you hear the
river, it's definitely bringing rocks.' ''
© 2005 Herald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
Source:The Miami Herald