In mid-February, Venezuelan militia members participated in a national military exercise with the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB, in Spanish). The event, which included street patrols, simulated armed combat, and even training with portable air-defense systems, debuted the Bolivarian Militia as an official branch of FANB.
On February 4, Nicolás Maduro approved the reform of FANB’s Organic Law as a constitutional law, with the biggest change being incorporating the militia as a FANB component, together with the Army, Navy, Military Aviation, and the Bolivarian National Guard.
Venezuelan Army Major General Vicente Narváez-Churrión, in exile in the United States, called the militia’s inclusion a “monstrosity” for FANB and lamented the changes to the military institution.
“Militias are not military, they’re civilian, as has been demonstrated with the multiple images showing senior citizens carrying old rifles,” Maj. Gen. Narváez-Churrión told Diálogo. “They have no military training or ethics. Many of them have been deceived by these communists, who take advantage of the humanitarian crisis in the country.”
For Venezuelan Army Major General Carlos Julio Peñaloza, also in exile in the United States, the regime seeks to replace the military with an unprofessional paramilitary force and a politicized recruitment process to forcibly take over Venezuela.
According to Article 75 of the new law, “the Bolivarian Militia has the mission to register, organize, equip, train, and indoctrinate the people in order to contribute to national security.”
In January, Maduro said there were already 3.7 million militia members throughout the country and during an event, asked each one to call upon two more people to reach a militia of 12 million. Meanwhile, FANB’s other components continue to lose personnel due to the growing discontent within Venezuelan cartels. In an interview with El Nuevo Herald newspaper, Venezuelan Army Lieutenant José Antonio Colina, in exile in the United States, estimated that by the end of 2019, some 20,000 service members had abandoned their posts.
“The plan is to eliminate the Armed Force,” Maj. Gen. Peñaloza told Diálogo, adding that Cuba had influenced the new law. “That’s part of a plan designed by Fidel Castro based on his experience when he ousted the government in Cuba in 1959 and eliminated the Armed Forces to replace them with a militia.”
Rocío San Miguel, president of Venezuelan nongovernmental organization Control Ciudadano (Citizen Control), agreed with Maj. Gen. Peñaloza and on Twitter highlighted the change in ranks that the new law brought to the Venezuelan Navy.
“Venezuelan Navy ensigns [alférez de navío] now become corvette lieutenants [teniente de corbeta] like in Cuba,” said San Miguel. “Article 106 of the unconstitutional reform of the National Bolivarian Armed Force’s Organic Law has a Cuban fingerprint.”
The unconstitutional nature of the new law was an aspect Juan Manuel Raffalli, a constitutional lawyer and professor at Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas, highlighted. According to Raffalli, per the Constitution, service members are at the service of the nation and are not politically biased. However, Article 1 of the new law calls FANB “anti-imperialist” and “anti-oligarchic”.
“Militias have a political content and obey partisan interests; that’s a violation of [the Constitution’s] Article 328, not to mention that they don’t have the professional training the Constitution demands,” Raffalli told Diálogo. “The only way of integrating that or another component is by modifying articles 328 and 329 by means of amendments, but according to Article 341, each amendment must be popularly endorsed for approval through a referendum.”
In a December 2007 referendum, the Venezuelan people rejected all proposals for Constitutional changes driven by Hugo Chávez¬ — including the Bolivarian Militia’s integration into FANB. In April 2019, Maduro said he wished to give the Bolivarian Militia a constitutional rank.
“It has taken them time,” concluded Maj. Gen. Peñaloza. “But that was the plan.”