Ejército Bolivariano / Ejército de Venezuela
Ground Forces or Army
Fuerzas Terrestres or Ejercito

The 05 October 2009 approval by the National Assembly (AN) of 45 changes to the year-old Organic Law of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces included the deletion of "national" in the names of the Army, Navy and Air Force, but leaving the moniker "Bolivarian" from the 2008 reform. With a "Bolivarian" orientation instead of a "National" view, Chavez could deploy Venezuelan forces to other "Bolivarian" states in ALBA. Conversely, non-Venezuelans from ALBA countries could serve in the "Bolivarian Army."

The 34,000-member "Forger of Freedoms" Venezuelan Army controls the rest of the components of the FAN, including the 18,300-member Navy, the 7,000-member Venezuelan Air Force (Aviación Militar Venezolana-AMV), and 24,000-member National Guard of Venezuela (Guardia Nacional de Venezuela-GNV), whose formal name is the Armed Forces of Cooperation (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperación-FAC).

Traditionally the predominant branch of service, the army during the 1970s and 1980s lost a certain amount of prestige vis-ŕ-vis the air force and the navy, the two services that benefited most from the purchase of upgraded weaponry during that period in the FAN. Nevertheless, the army remained in 1990 the largest of the services, and its general officers still dominated top leadership posts.

In 2006 the army consisted of approximately 34,000 personnel of all ranks under the direction of the Commander of the Army. The bulk of these troops were organized into five divisions. Four of these were infantry divisions, each of which encompassed four to six battalions. The remaining division -- the First Cavalry Division, headquartered at San Juan de los Morros, some fifty kilometers south of Maracay, or about eighty kilometers southsouthwest of Caracas -- included most of the army's armored units. An independent airborne regiment and ranger brigade also maintained their headquarters in Military Region One (Caracas). Other deployments in and near the capital included the Fourth Infantry Division, headquartered at Maracay, an armored brigade stationed at Valencia, and an infantry brigade and the First Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group, both headquartered in Caracas. Additional independent units included the Presidential Guard Regiment, an aviation regiment, an engineer regiment, and a military police regiment. As of the late 1980s, the army's longrange plans called for the establishment of one additional infantry division. The placement of forces reflected the traditional political importance of the capital, as well as Venezuela's strategic orientation toward the coastal area and the Caribbean.

In the 19990s the structure of the Army was as follows:

  • Area Militar 1 (HQ San Cristóbal) covers Táchira, Mérida, Barinas and Apure
  • Area Militar 2 (HQ Maracaibo) covers Falcón, Zulia and western Trujillo
  • Area Militar 3 (HQ Barquisimeto) covers Lara, Yaracuy, Portuguesa, Cojedes, Guárico and eastern Trujillo
  • Area Militar 4 (HQ Maracay) covers Caracas, Carabobo, Aragua, Miranda, Sucre, Nueva Esparta and northern Anzoátegui
  • Area Militar 5 (HQ Maturín) covers Monagas, southern Anzoátegui and the Delta Amacuro Territory
  • Area Militar 6 (HQ Ciudad Bolívar) covers Bolívar and the Amazonas Territory
Prior to the country`s "Plan Ejército 2000," each military zone had its own Infantry Division, each of which was further sub-divided into one or two brigades. Under the new plan, the Army combined the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions into a new 1st Infantry Division, with its HQ at Maracaibo. With their HQ at Maracay, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions merged to become the new 4th Infantry Division. Lastly, a new 5th Jungle Infantry Division, headquartered at Ciudad Bolívar was formed to cover the old regions 5 and 6 in the south of the country. By 2005 the army was organized into five infantry divisions, one corps of engineers, and one reserve corps. The infantry divisions include 15 brigades (armored, 1; cavalry, 1; light armored, 1; infantry, 7; airborne, 1; Ranger, 2; mobile, 1; counterguerrilla, 1; and military police, 1); and 3 regiments (aviation, 1; and engineering, 2).

Army officers received their initial training at the Military Academy at El Valle outside Caracas. Officers could pursue postgraduate training at civilian universities (although only a small percentage did so) or at the Polytechnic University of the Armed Forces. The Staff College at Chorrillos prepared officers for advanced command responsibilities. Some officers also studied abroad, particularly at the United States Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. The army also administered an NCO school and other specialized schools for enlisted personnel at Maracay.

Army officer rank insignia were silver for officers up to and including captain, gold for higher ranks. All insignia were worn on gold shoulder boards. Enlisted rank insignia consisted of chevrons worn on the sleeve, red with black or gold markings for the army.

By 1990 the army's mechanized and artillery assets were somewhat dated in comparison with the newer, higher-technology equipment employed by the air force and the navy. For example, the only main battle tank in the inventory was the French-made AMX-30, of immediate post-World War II vintage. The standard issue infantry weapon was the Belgian-made FN FAL 7.62mm assault rifle. Elite and specialized units carried Israeli Uzi, Italian Beretta, German Walther, and American Ingram submachine guns. The army's single antiaircraft artillery group relied on rather ineffective 40mm guns rather than surface-to-air missiles, indicating a heavy reliance on the air-to-air interception capabilities of the air force. This posture responded to the lack of a significant regional air-strike threat aside from that posed by Cuba, which was distant enough to allow for adequate warning and response time.

On July 5, 2002, Carlos Chirinos and Daniel Jose Uribazo were arrested on charges of conspiring and attempting to illegally export 150,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition to Venezuela in violation of the Federal Arms Export Control Act. As set forth in a criminal complaint, Chirinos and Uribazo sought to purchase a total of 150,000 rounds of ammunition of a type that is commonly used in AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles from Eagle Arms gun store in Miami, Florida. The ammunition that Chirinos and Uribazo sought to export is listed on the United States Munitions List as a "defense article," and thus requires a license from the U.S. State Department for export to a foreign country.

President Chávez has embarked on a multibillion-dollar weapons purchasing program that includes 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, Mi-17 helicopter transports and Mi-35 gunships from Russia and patrol gunboats from Spain.

In October 2004, Moscow promised to sell defense systems worth $500 million to the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. The first contract for the delivery of 10 Mil Mi-17 and Mi-26 helicopters, as well as 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles worth $120 million, was signed in February 2005. In mid 2005, Caracas signed a contract to buy six Mi-17 Hip and eight Mi-35 Hind multi-purpose helicopters.

Venezuela concluded a contract on 03 July 2006 in Caracas for the delivery of 100,000 AK-103 Kalashnikov assault rifles with ammunition for $52 million (in addition to the 2005 contract for the delivery of 100,000 AKM assault rifles). On 12 July 2006, two contracts were signed with a total value of $474.6 million for the construction in Venezuela of plants to produce licensed AK-103 assault rifles and 7.62-mm bullets. Chavez has said that Venezuela needs at least one million assault rifles to defend itself in case the United States tries to invade and seize control of the country's petroleum industry. Russia delivered the first 30,000 of 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles under a US$54 million contract in early June 2006.

In March 2006 the president of the Republic, Hugo Chávez, in San Felipe, State Yaracuy, presented the first three helicopters bought by the country from Russia. The delivery of the MI-17V5 airships to the Army took place in the Battalion of Helicopters Brigadier general Florencio Jiménez, located in the Yaracuyana capital. The three helicopters were the first of fifteen to be delivered under two contracts worth a total of $201 million. The contracts were signed in March 2005 for 6 Mi-17V5 Hip armed troop transports and 8 Mi-35M2 Pirana armored helicopter gunships and one Mi-26T, for $120 million. A Venezuelan general announced a deal for five additional Mi-17 helicopters in June 2005 for $81 million. In April 2006 Army commander Gen. Raul Baduel said that the military planned to buy a total of 20 Mi-17s, 10 Mi-35s and three Mi-26T helicopters. "This year, we should have 15 helicopters of the 33 that are expected in our country," Baduel told state television.

The minister of Defense, Trimming Maniglia, indicated that on 04 June 2006 that more helicopters will arrive. In July 2006 the helicopters were received in full. On the other hand, the Commander-in-chief of the Army, Raul Isaiah Baduel, indicated that the aerial units are defensive and will also serve to support social activities. Baduel indicated that the purchase of the helicopters gives "exact fulfillment of the strategic map of the nation, destined to accelerate the conformation of the military strategy".

Further contracts were signed for 38 Russian military helicopters [for a total of 53] for $484 million on 15 July 2006 [Mi-17V5 and Mi-35Ms only - no more Mi-26s]. Russia signed contracts on supplies of military planes and helicopters to Venezuela worth over $1 billion.

On 15 October 2008 , a senior executive at Russia's arms export monopoly said that Russia and Venezuela may finalize within a month a deal for a large number of BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. "In addition to the small arms, light weapons and ammunition delivered earlier, a large shipment of BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles is to be delivered," said Igor Sevastyanov, deputy general director of Rosoboronexport. He added that the contract "could be signed within a month." Gen. Jesus Gonzalez, who oversees weapon procurement for the Venezuelan armed forces, said "During the upcoming visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Venezuela in November this year we may finalize the details of deals on the procurement of [Russian] BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and T-72 tanks."

In March 2012 Moscow completed the delivery of 92 modernized T-72B1V MBTs, the Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems and other military equipment to Venezuela under a $2.2-bln loan secured by Chavez' government in 2010. In June 2012 Caracas and Moscow agreed on the purchase of additional 100 T-72 main battle tanks by Venezuela as part of a $4-bln loan secured by the oil-rich Latin American country in 2011 to buy Russian weaponry. Venezuela will receive Russian T-72 tanks, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and BTR-80A armored personnel carriers.

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