Last month, a sword-brandishing Hugo Chávez marked the eighth anniversary of his return to power after an abortive coup by addressing thousands of government-backed paramilitaries. “You should be ready to take up arms at any moment and give your lives if necessary for our nation’s independence and the socialist revolution,” roared the Venezuelan leader. The reported 35,000 militia members represent an effort by Chávez to create his own version of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (who are committed to defending the theocratic dictatorship in Tehran). They effectively serve as a government security force. Chávez is relying on them to frighten and subjugate his domestic opponents.
The Associated Press offers a description of how these armed combatants are trained:
A 54-year-old housewife fires the machine gun for the first time, lets loose a thunderous burst of gunfire and beams with satisfaction. A boot camp instructor shouts, “Kill those gringos!”
Thousands of civilian volunteers in olive-green fatigues are training over the weekend at a Venezuelan army base, where they learn to crawl under barbed wire, fire assault rifles and stalk enemies in combat. Known as the Bolivarian Militia, this spirited group of mostly working-class men and women—from students to retirees—are united by their militant support for President Hugo Chávez and their willingness to defend his government.
According to the AP, Venezuelan minister Diosdado Cabello claims that the ranks of pro-Chávez militia fighters have reached 120,000, and could potentially hit 200,000. While opposition figures believe those numbers are “grossly exaggerated, they’re still alarmed that government loyalists are being armed across the country.” Whether or not these paramilitaries ever reach the level of power and influence enjoyed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, they will make it much harder for Venezuelans to end the nightmare of Chavismo.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.