Civil Militia / milicia civil
Combatant Corps / Cuerpos Combatientes
Popular Defense Units (UDP - Unidades de Defensa Popular)

Venezuela launched two days of war-games in the face of threats made by US President Donald Trump about engaging in military action against the country. On 26 August 2017, some 200,000 troops and fighter jets and tanks, belonging to the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB), along with 700,000 reserves and civil militia members took part in the drills, which were officially kicked off by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. "The people and the FANB are defending territory and sovereignty," said Maduro. Trump, who has promised to “continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela,” said earlier this month that Washington has “many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

It is nearly impossible to precisely track the development of the several units variously called reserve forces, national guard and militia. Part of the problem is that, at least in USA usage, these terms are slightly interchangeable. Another obvious problem is that the fine distinctions between these formations may not be appartent to general assignment writers. Under the Chavista / Maduro goverernments, these formations have been substantially revamped, a process which has only added to the confusion. The "miltary reserve" seems to be a small formation of less than 10,000 troops, while the "civilian militia" seems to be a very poortly trained formation of several hundred thousand. The 2017 MIlitary Balance credits the "Civil Militia" witha strength of 500,000 troops.

Within the new Armed Forces, the Bolivarian Militia is created as a Special Corps, organized by the Venezuelan State to materialize the principle of co-responsibility and has as main objective, to interact with society as a whole, for the execution of integral defense Of the Nation. This decree-law establishes its mission, lists the functions and powers, leaving the Executive in use of its regulatory power, the determination of its administrative and operational organization.

The so-called Combatant Corps [Cuerpos Combatientes] are formed by workers of specific institutions and public or private companies. These are organized not by area of residence of the militiaman but by virtue of their membership in a determinant entity and are charged with training to keep the companies operating with a minimum of staff. This entity, for example a company, is the administrative responsible for the operation of its respective Combatant Corps, which is operationally dependent on the General Command of the Bolivarian Militia.

The "Combatant Corps" established under the new Armed Forces law as part of the reconfigured National Militia, are composed of citizen-soldiers organized into units based around the public or private workplace. Their role is to support the FANB and assist in the integral defense of the nation by "assuring the integrity and operability of their workplace." Local papers described the four simple steps for forming a Combatant Corps at the workplace: adoption of a resolution by the "maximum authority" of the workplace, submission of a list of volunteers to the National Militia's General Command, report by the approved Combatant Corps to the nearest militia unit for training and credentialing.

Joining a unit of the National Militia would become a prerequisite for any government position. The Combatant Corps are "just another means of pressure, Chavez already has shock troops," -- the armed political gangs that disrupt opposition events. Other military watchers quoted in the media pointed out that Article 60 authorized foreigners, understood to mean Cubans, to command militia units. Article 60 was unchanged in this new law. Foreigners, who had "completed studies" at a FANB institute were already eligible for command of any militia unit.

There is a history in the promotional materials of these Combatant Bodies that in them the level of concentration or training would be lighter than in the Territorial Militia, with a day of half a day a month (a half working day) instead of each end of week that are habitual in the Territorial. Likewise, in the texts related to Combatant Bodies, messages about the flexiblity of training and its adaptation to the physical condition of the militiaman or similar texts, for example, clarifying the possibility that the retirees of the institutions involved are also integrated into the units . Even so, it is said that members receive instruction in infantry, communications, first aid, in coordination with security agencies.

In early 2005 Venezuelan civilian militias began to organize in response to President Hugo Chavez's February 4 announcement of the formation of popular defense units (UDPs). The groups wore civilian clothing with military patches and drilled without weapons, according to press. During drills, volunteers receive payment (rumored to be about US $25 per month) and a meal. Rafael Cabrices, a civilian who fired into a crowd of demonstrators during the April 2002 coup, is one of the leaders of a suburban Caracas UDP. Cabrices told a reporter his group of about 120 people was formed to wage guerrilla warfare in the event of a US invasion. Government officials issued contradictory statements about how the civilian and military reserves will relate to each other, and who will lead each force.

Chavez made official his plans to increase military reserves and call up a civilian militia with two decrees published 04 April 2005. On his "Alo Presidente" program April 3, Chavez said the new military reserves will number more than 1.5 million and the rest of the population will be recruited to help defend the country in guerrilla warfare. Both groups would answer to him through the command of Maj. Gen. Julio Quintero Viloria. Referring to Venezuela's defense restructuring, National Land Institute director and former intelligence chief Eliecer Otaiza told a reporter that Venezuelans need to learn to "hate gringos" in preparation for war, a comment rejected by the Foreign Ministry. Most opposition groups have focused their criticism on the alleged undemocratic and illegal nature of the reserves, issues that have little resonance with the public.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issued two decrees published in the national gazette 04 April 2005 confirming he (Chavez) would command Venezuela's planned military reserves and direct the mobilization of civilians to help defend the country. He designated Maj. Gen. Julio Quintero Viloria to oversee both projects for him. The decree called for Quintero's participation in national security planning and gave him a voice--but not a vote--in meetings of the Defense Ministry and the unified command. According to the decree, a change in a line item of the presidency's budget will finance the reserves after additional credit is authorized. Chavez also outlined his plans for reserves and for "asymmetric" (that is, guerrilla) warfare during his "Alo Presidente" program broadcast from the site of the revolutionary Battle of Las Queseras in Apure State on its 186th anniversary April 3. Chavez quoted extensively from the description of the battle written by hero Gen. Jose Antonio Paez to show how civilians were essential to the war effort.

Venezuela's new military doctrine - scheduled to be released in the summer of 2005 - prescribed the use of "reserves" to augment national security, as promised in 2003-04. Chavista rhetoric was ambiguous about whether these reserves would be military or civilian; Chavez attended several ceremonies that highlighted military reservists, but some ultra-leftists called for a broader arming of Chavista supporters. One of the chief theorists of the new doctrine was Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lt. Col. (retired) William Izarra.

In late January 2005, the government news agency published an article by Izarra outlining the structure of "popular commands" made up of "basic action units" in charge of community defense, supplies, communications, and intelligence collection. During a February 2005 meeting with government officials at the armed forces headquarters, Chavez urged supporters to call up retirees and ex-guerrillas, according to a press transcript of his remarks. He expressed hope that mayors could offer garrison commanders lists of local "reservists" with sharpshooting, sniper, and grenade-throwing skills.

The government cold tap the Frente Francisco de Miranda (FFM) youth movement to fill out its reserve forces. Independence hero Francisco de Miranda spent virtually the rest of his life living in nations that were at odds with Spain, seeking support for the cause of the independence of his native Spanish America. Although he was a professed admirer of the newly independent United States, Miranda's political vision of Latin America, beyond independence, remained equivocal. The FFM describes itself as a "disciplined, dynamic, and organized anti-imperialist force based on the fight to eradicate poverty in all of its manifestations and to achieve social equality in Venezuela." In reality, the FFM is a quasi-military, Chavez-affiliated youth movement, noted for serving as a political and military training school for radicalized Venezuelan youths seeking careers in the FAN, security services, or Chavez-sponsored political movements. Many youths attended "ideological training" in Cuba. Thousands of the Russian AK-103 rifles were reportedly earmarked for FFM members. The FFM provided many of the workers the CNE employed as part of its 2006 voter registration drive.

Questioned about the asymmetric doctrine, National Land Institute director and former intelligence chief Eliecer Otaiza told a reporter it was necessary to start "hating gringos," since US citizens would be on the front lines of the "asymmetric war." Otaiza added that he did not agree with the thesis that Venezuela must confront the US President but not the American people. Chavez had often expressed that he has no quarrel with the American people. Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez disavowed Otaiza's comments April 6, saying only he, as the President's foreign relations representative, can authoritatively speak about such affairs. Offering to resign if necessary, Otaiza then told the press he was only expressing his personal opinion, not endorsing hatred. He brushed off further questions, saying everyone just needed to get the "Mickey Mouse stuff" out of their heads because it was time to talk ideology.

Defense Council chief Maj. Gen. Melvin Lopez Hidalgo, for his part, tap-danced further on the issue of whether civilians would be supplied weapons. After attending a meeting Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel had called with senior officers March 29, Lopez told reporters that not all reservists would be armed. Denying both the militarization of the civilian population and the politicization of the military, Lopez said that "there were different ways of defending the country." Lopez explained the purchase of 100,000 assault rifles from Russia by maintaining that the replacement of the military's current Belgian FAL rifles was years overdue.

Chavez announced on "Alo Presidente" that the ranks would be increased to "1.5 or 2 million" people, and that all 25 million Venezuelan citizens would be mobilized to defend the country. At the end of the program, Gen. Quintero told Chavez he currently had only 80,000 "passive reserves" - probably meaning military personnel who had left the armed forces within the last five years. These soldiers were legally obligated to return to active duty if called. Quintero said he had asked mayors to help raise the number to 1.4 million by recruiting ten percent of the population. Without elaborating further, Quintero also alluded to the possibility of signing up 2,225,000 people.

The opposition criticized the proposed reserves primarily by questioning their purpose. A retired military officer and legislators from both sides of the aisle debated the issue on a 05 April 2005 broadcast of the government-sponsored television station. The government was pulling out the stops to publicize the reserves, including by running color newspaper advertisements. In an email advocating Chavez's overthrow, a group calling itself the "national allied forces" described three "threats" the government planned to face with reserves: the United States, Colombia, and internal dissidents.

Former Defense Minister Fernando Ochoa Antich likened the planned reserve force to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's "dignity battalions," which quickly disintegrated after experiencing thousands of casualties. He posited that Chavez was beefing up reserves to create an alternate force that would follow him blindly, especially in the event of another military coup. Doubting that Chavez really fears a US invasion, an editorial in an opposition-leaning newspaper commented that the reserves would be used to counter potential uprisings of civilian masses and military units.

With the exception of Primero Justicia (PJ), opposition political parties argued against reserves by warning of creeping authoritarianism. Christian democratic (COPEI) secretary general Cesar Perez Vivas said the government aimed to frighten the people and smother internal dissidence with the popular reserves, according to March 29 press reports. Movement to Socialism (MAS) secretary general Leopoldo Puchi warned that a militia would "completely distort democratic life." PJ officials, however, stuck to themes more poignant to Venezuelan voters such unemployment, poverty, and security. One PJ spokesman listed social spending plans that could improve the living standards of millions of people if the government were to redirect what it allegedly spent on weapons.

The opposition's objections also focused on the alleged illegality of creating a civilian militia. Because the organization of the reserves must be defined by organic law, the opposition has argued that any changes to the force would require a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, as stipulated in the constitution. According to press reports, the National Assembly's defense committee may submit a draft of the organic law of the armed forces, which will call for the mobilization of all willing citizens between the ages of 18 and 50 who are mentally and physically capable, to the plenary chamber in mid-April. Pro-Chavez forces did not have the two-thirds vote in the assembly to pass an organic law on the military. When faced with a similar situation regarding the judiciary, they simply did not label the law "organic," passed a law tailored to Chavez's needs, and packed the Supreme Court.

Although the constitution does not specifically mention reserves, the opposition also declared the militias themselves unconstitutional. On the other hand, the Chavez administration maintains that its initiative is in keeping with constitutional principles. Pro-Chavez chairman of the National Assembly's defense committee Edis Rios pointed out that the constitution holds "all natives and corporate bodies" in Venezuela responsible for the national defense.

The purported threats from the United States, from popular uprisings, and from plotters within the military probably all influenced Chavez to increase the reserves and make them accountable to him. He also probably plans to use recruiting as a tool to stir up nationalistic support for his presidency in the manner that he employed the Electoral Battle Units so successfully before the recall referendum in August 2004. (He is keeping the same acronym.) The administration will not be able to train millions for combat, but this does not mean that Chavez will not be able to construct a corps for his "revolution." The case of Otaiza's "hate" comments shows that whenever Chavez changes his message towards the United States, government spokesmen will inevitably take time to catch up.

Venezuelan National Assembly deputies working on the draft organic law outlined the creation of a "territorial guard," which aims to involve all Venezuelan citizens, according to 07 July 2005 press reports. Chavez raised the issue of the territorial guard during his June 5 "Alo Presidente" broadcast, characterizing the force as the nation's third line of defense after the active duty military and the reserves. Pro-Chavez defense committee chairman Eddis Rios (MVR) defined the territorial guard as a "complement" to the reserves. Comparing the group to the anti-Nazi underground and the "Iraqi people," another pro-Chavez legislator described the territorial guard as a network of Venezuelans operating secretly from their homes to fight an invading force. The guard would receive "guidance" and "instruction in conversations" rather than military training, according to the deputy.

The government, offering modest payments and free lunches, does not appear to be having difficulty recruiting reserves. One-third of the Chavez supporters interviewed said they were prepared to join the reserves to fight the United States. Some community leaders are supplementing the military's recruitment efforts by drumming up support for the reserves on an ad-hoc basis. For example, the head of a pro-Chavez collective in Aragua State, claiming to have over 800 volunteers, called on locals to come out and train as reserves in mid-April. Members of government social missions are also enlisting in the reserve effort, according to press reports.

Chavez, however, wildly exaggerated the number of Venezuelan reserves. Boasting to "Alo Presidente" listeners 03 July 2005 that the US would regret any invasion of Venezuela "for 500 years," Chavez claimed his reserve force was already approaching 500,000 members while the United States had resorted to drafting civilians to support its Iraq mission. Chavez then alleged -- without explaining the discrepancy -- that two million Venezuelans had registered as reservists. He added July 3 that each reservist would have his own weapon, and no invader would be able to resist such a force "armed to the teeth."

The socialist leader of Venezuela announced in a speech to regime loyalists his plan to arm hundreds of thousands of supporters after a years-long campaign to confiscate civilian-owned guns. "A gun for every militiaman!" Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said to uniformed militia members outside the presidential palace The socialist leader of Venezuela announced in a speech to regime loyalists his plan to arm hundreds of thousands of supporters after a years-long campaign to confiscate civilian-owned guns.

"A gun for every militiaman!" Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said to uniformed militia members outside the presidential palace, Fox News reported on Tuesday. The Bolivarian militias, created by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, already number in the hundreds of thousands and are being used to supplement the regime's armed forces. Maduro is boosting the number of armed supporters in hopes of keeping control over the country from what he labels "imperialist aggression."

The arming of Maduro's supporters comes five years after Venezuela's socialist regime outlawed the commercial sale and civilian ownership of firearms. Only the military, police, and groups like security companies can buy guns and only directly from one state-run arms company under the law passed in 2012. The Bolivarian militias, created by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, already numbered in the hundreds of thousands and were used to supplement the regime's armed forces. Maduro is boosting the number of armed supporters in hopes of keeping control over the country from what he labels "imperialist aggression."

The Urals-based Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (IMP) supplied 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles to Venezuela, and signed a new contract in 2007 licensing production of Kalashnikov rifles in the Latin American country. Under the contract, Russia is building an assembly line for AK-103 assault rifles and an ammunition plant to produce 7.62-mm ammunition for the rifle.

There have been reports that the militia would eventually be endowed with battalions of tanks, 2 and have also circulated images of militiamen trained with equipment of greater firepower relative to their usual FAL rifles, such as heavy machine guns, Carl-Gustav antitank , small Cangoes without recoil or light armored Dragoon 300 AFV, but all these activities of instruction would be realized in militias enclosures called Areas of Integral Defense that are located in the Old Groupings of Reserve.

There is an air component of the Bolivarian Militia that had been in the process of activation for some years. Its pilot officers, according to official sources, would be in charge of eventually operating helicopters, such as Mi-172 of the Search and Rescue Service of the National Institute of Civil Aeronautics.

Join the mailing list