Venezuela Civilian Militias To Double In Size To One Million

Members of a civilian militia march in a parade on Venezuela's Independence Day.
Image AP

 

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced in a speech on Tuesday night that he hopes to boost the numbers of the country's various civilian militias to as many as a million.  Speaking at a voluntary disarmament ceremony in Petare, the largest of Caracas' crime-plagued slums and a traditional stronghold of support for Maduro and his late predecessor Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president told his audience, "We have to get sooner than later to a million militia members and yes, every neighborhood should be with the militia: with their rifle, their organization to defend the country...not with individual weapons to do things against society, to rob, to kidnap."

Venezuela's first civilian militia or "people-in-arms", the National Bolivarian Militia, was created by Hugo Chávez in 2005, three years after a coup which briefly deposed him from power.  In 2011, Chávez passed a law which gave these militias their own officers and put them under the direct command of the executive office.  A little over a month after Maduro came into office in April - following his victory in presidential elections that were unexpectedly close and fiercely disputed by the opposition - he has created a "workers' militia" to serve much the same purpose.  On Tuesday, the president put the number of total members at 400,000, though earlier in the year his government estimated it was closer to 130,000. 

But even as he continues to boost numbers within these militias, he has also pursued disarmament outside of their ranks.  In May, he signed off on a law which penalizes the illicit possession of firearms with up to 20 years in prison.  Venezuela is awash in violent crime: some 3,400 homicides have been recorded in the first trimester of 2013, and the 16,072 murders recorded in 2012 - about 56 per every 100,000 people - was the most in its recorded history.

The announcement comes one day after Venezuelan authorities declared they had captured two Colombian members of a 10-member gang which they said were planning to assassinate Maduro and the head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello.  Maduro warned that Venezuelans' reaction to "enemies of the country" would be "overwhelming".  He also denounced what he called an international plan headed by the United States to assassinate him "in conjunction" with an attack against Syria. "If Syria goes," he said, "the cause of Arab resistance will go too, and afterward they will want to come for us, to hunt us down one by one: Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Latin America and the Caribbean.  Those are the plans."

HEADLINE: Maduro To Arm New 'Workers Militia'; Does Maduro Distrust The Military?

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.