Venezuelan gov’t arms masses to defend sovereignty

“If imperialism ever has the idea of challenging Venezuela, it would have to deal with Bolivar’s people, who are prepared to defend their sovereignty, their motherland.” Those were the words of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on the Feb. 21 broadcast of the weekly radio program Alo Presidente.

In response to increased U.S. aggression, Venezuela is reorienting its military strategy towards arming and preparing the entire population for imperialist attack. General Melvin López Hidalgo, secretary of the Council for National Defense, stated that the country’s military doctrine would include “asymmetric war”—a military concept that includes guerrilla warfare and other tactics in the face of a much more powerful opponent—in the face of a possible U.S. invasion. He also called the United States a “permanent threat to our sovereignty.” (Associated Press, Feb. 5, 2005)

‘Popular Defense Units’

In a Feb. 4 speech, Chávez announced the creation of neighborhood “popular defense units.” These units will differ in size, from 10 to 100 to 500 people, and operate in factories, neighborhood centers, and cooperatives and on farms. In addition to training for defense, the popular units will also participate in productive activities like planting crops and fixing roads.

Chávez called for a revolutionary change in the Venezuelan military, increasing the influence of the working class. The reorientation will strengthen the National Armed Forces, foster ties between the military and the civilian population, and encourage the participation of workers and the poor in national defense. (EFE News Service, Feb. 5, 2005) The number of reservists in Venezuela will increase from 35,000 to 100,000.

To further emphasize the ties between the working class and the military, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UVB) will be moved out of a former oil corporate headquarters that had been taken over during the 2002-2003 oil bosses’ lockout. It will move to the barracks and garrisons of the armed forces. The UVB was created in an effort to provide poor and working people the university education previously denied to them. Since opening in 2003, the UVB enrolls 400,000 students.

The Venezuelan poor have already shown—in the streets, at work, and at the voting booths—that they are prepared to defend the Bolivarian revolution. In April 2002, they filled the streets of Caracas and, with the aid of large sections of the military, turned back a U.S.-supported coup against Chávez. The Venezuelan rich elite, made up of the oil giants, the big landholders, and the owners of the television networks, controlled the political system before Chávez, and launched the coup to return themselves to power.

Besides the coup, the elite has used other means to destabilize the Chávez government. They have tried to shut down production with lockouts and various forms of economic sabotage. Throughout it all, the workers and the poor have stood strong, continuously organizing themselves to carry the revolutionary process forward.

Now the Chávez government is taking the next step. Venezuela’s working and poor people will be trained to defend the process, which has provided them for the first time with access to health care, education and other social gains.

Refitting the military

In October 2004, Russia and Venezuela signed a sales contract costing about $150 million, in which Russia agreed to provide Venezuela with 100,000 AK-101 and AK-103 rifles, ten helicopters, and ammunition. The two countries have also discussed larger sales and the sharing of technology that Venezuela would need to begin its own weapons production. The U.S. government tried unsuccessfully to disrupt the sale by threatening both Russia and Venezuela.

The U.S. has posed a threat to the Bolivarian Revolution since its beginning. But in recent months, Washington has stepped up its anti-Chávez rhetoric. Rather than relying on the Venezuelan oligarchy—in disarray following its failed attempts to depose Chávez—the U.S. has taken upon itself the tasks of destroying the Bolivarian Revolution and reversing the gains of the Venezuelan working class.

U.S. pressure intensifies

The U.S. government has intensified its denunciations of the Chávez government in recent months. Condoleezza Rice accused Venezuela of being a “destabilizing force” in the region. In mid-February, CIA director Porter Goss called Venezuela the leading Latin American nation to be alarmed about in 2005. He claimed Chávez “is consolidating his power by using technically legal tactics to target his opponents and [is] meddling in the region.”

According to a Feb. 26 report in El Tiempo, a Colombian daily newspaper, the U.S. will ask the June General Assembly of the Organization of American States to change its charter to isolate Chávez. The language of the charter, written in 1991, allows for regional intervention where a member state’s constitutional order has been violated, such as in the case of a coup or the establishment of a dictatorship.

Robert Zoellick, nominated to be second in command in the State Department, said that the charter should be altered to deal with a trend towards authoritarianism. He complained, “You win the election, but you do away with your opponents, you do away with the press, you do away with the rule of law, you pack the courts.” It was a not-so-subtle list of slanders against Venezuela’s Bolivarian government.

On March 3, Roger Noriega announced that Washington will press its case among Venezuela’s neighbors regarding Chávez’s “acts of destabilization” in the region. He said that the U.S. must continue to ask about Chávez’s “intentions” and his “position” on rebel groups.

These smears are aimed at linking Venezuela with groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People’s Army, which has unjustly been labeled a “terrorist” organization. The U.S. hopes to isolate Venezuela, and thus lay the groundwork for an open attack.

Resistance to U.S. maneuvers

The U.S. is facing increased difficulty achieving its objectives. Growing popular mobilizations across the continent have put the ruling classes in those countries on the defensive. Widespread hatred of U.S. imperialism is forcing a growing number of Latin American governments to distance themselves from U.S. plans.

The Chávez government itself has refused to back down in the face of U.S. intimidation. On Feb.17, Vice President Jose Vincent Rangel responded to CIA director Peter Goss’ allegations by noting, “The only threat to Latin America is Mr. Bush.”

On March 4 Chávez attempted to warn the U.S. ruling class in a language they might understand. “If there is any aggression, there will be no oil,” he stated. “We want to supply oil to the U.S. We’re not going to avoid this supply of oil unless the U.S. government gets a little bit crazy and tries to hurt us.”

The Venezuelan government has been promoting the idea of Latin American economic integration. This is in direct contradiction to the U.S.-dominated Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal. With both the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas and the idea of creating a Latin American oil firm, Petrosur, Venezuela is stressing an integrated Latin American economy based on solidarity and cooperation.

This directly challenges U.S. economic hegemony in the region, an essential component of U.S. policy toward Latin America since the 1823 Monroe Doctrine.

The revolution moves forward

Each step forward for the Bolivarian Revolution frustrates and angers the U.S. and its ally the Venezuelan oligarchy. They have attempted a coup, a referendum, a media smear campaign, and international diplomatic pressure in their efforts to dismantle the Chávez government and its popular support.

But no amount of lies can convince the Venezuelan poor to abandon a government that so clearly acts in their interest. When bourgeois elements within the military engineered the U.S.-backed coup in April 2002, the workers and the poor restored him to power. Three years later, Chávez has entrusted the armed defense of the Bolivarian Revolution not only to the established military but to the masses themselves. The revolution is deepening.

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