Nicolás Maduro announced during a commencement address at the Bolivarian Workers University that he would create a new volunteer militia of "300,000, 500,000, a million, two million armed and uniformed workers prepared for the defense of the sovereignty, the fatherland, the stability of the Bolivarian Revolution."
The militia would be considered part of the Bolivarian National Militia, established in 2005 by late president Hugo Chávez and consisting of about 130,000 volunteers; though the extent and exact nature of the affiliation is not entirely clear. That militia responds directly to the Venezuelan head of state, bypassing top military leaders.
Maduro's decision comes in the wake of recent rumors that fissures are developing within his government and in the armed forces. A recording was leaked this week by the opposition in which Mario Silva, a hard-line Chavista pundit who hosts the show "La Hojilla," can supposedly be heard discussing a military-led conspiracy against Maduro with a Cuban military member said to be tied to Cuba's secret service.
At another point, Silva indicates that one of the principal reasons for the poor state of the Venezuelan economy has to do with corruption on the part of top Chavista leaders, and mentions Diosdado Cabello, the head of Parliament, as a main beneficiary. Silva has denied that the recording is legitimate and says it's a montage of spliced clips from past shows.
The opposition legislator Ismael García, who presented the recording, has called for an investigation into the matter.
Christopher Sabatini, the senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, says the announcement of the new militia is meant to distract the public from the state of the economy. In April of this year, prices from 4.3 percent from March, while the annual inflation rate reached 29.4 percent. Last week, the minister of commerce announced the importation of a shipment of $7 million worth of toilet paper rolls in response to a shortage. In the past four months, there have also been shortages of food items like butter, milk, sugar oil.
Given the shortages and apparent tensions within the government, "it's pretty easy to believe that this is a tactic designed to distract people, to rally the faithful, and to divert attention," Sabatini told the Latin Times.
He added that the move does not represent an "armed challenge" to possible conspirators in the military, and pointed to similar moves by Chávez in the past to grant various forms of military and political power to small groups of supporters. "What it does is simply add another layer of risk of social upheaval should someone challenge his leadership."
Sabatini indicated that it may also be meant to help Maduro's government tighten the strings tying partisan faithfulness to the workplace. The names of those who signed a 2003 petition to hold a recall referendum on Chávez's rule were released in 2004, and since then has been used in workplaces and public offices in the determination of public benefits.
Just before election was held in April, reports emerged of supervisors pressuring employees to vote, and vote Maduro.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles refuses to accept the results of the election, saying his team has evidence of fraud that has not been investigated by the National Electoral Council.