By Congressman Carlos Escarrá Malavé*, April 4, 2011.
Comment published in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor
There’s a distinct misunderstanding with what the reform of the Organic Law that governs the Venezuelan Armed Forces will accomplish.
The militias were created through a 2009 reform of this law, and exist in accordance with Article 322 of the Constitution, which establishes the responsibility of all Venezuelans, whether military or civilian, to defend the homeland. They are a special force created by the state to support the branches of the National Armed Forces in the integral defense of the nation. According to the law, the militias depend operationally on the president in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, but administratively they depend on the Ministry of Defense. It is disingenuous to suggest that they will be a sort of Praetorian Guard for the president.
The Venezuelan government has reformed this law to better regulate the militias and their role vis-a-vie the branches of Venezuela’s Armed Force. This will make them more professional – not less. Additionally, the military won’t be handing out weapons to members of the state militias; instead, sets of weapons will be assigned for use of the militias only during training exercises and, if ever needed, for deployment. There are no reasons for conflicts between militias and the traditional components of the Armed Forces, as their responsibilities and limitations are well specified under this law.
There’s nothing particularly controversial about Venezuela’s militias, which operate under controls on the use of weapons that are much stricter than individual gun laws in many U.S. states.
*Carlos Escarrá Malavé is Vice President of the Standing Committee on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration of the National Assembly of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The Congressman’s comment answered the following question from the newsletter Latin America Advisor: Militias loyal to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will be allowed to receive weapons from the country’s military under new rules that went into effect March 22. The move raised concerns among the president’s critics that he could use the armed groups to tighten his grip on power. Why has Venezuela’s government taken this action? What will be the effect of allowing the military to distribute weapons to militias? Will the move create tensions between militias and the military or other groups?