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05CARACAS872 2005-03-23 17:24:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

CIVILIAN RESERVES: DEFENDING THE REVOLUTION

Tags:   PGOV MARR VE 
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1. (C) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has begun
organizing civilian units to defend the country from
potential invasions. The GOV has not made clear the
relationship between military reserves and civilian militias,
but Chavez announced that Maj. Gen. Julio Quintero Viloria
would emerge from retirement to lead the reserves. The
civilian units are to answer to the President. Building up
the reserves and adding civilian units to Venezuela's defense
structure are works in progress dependent on the President
himself. Although some Chavez opponents believe the
country's military may not be pleased with the development,
the institution has been subjected to significant changes
under Chavez and the old paradigms may not apply. End
summary.



2. (U) Venezuelan civilian militias have begun to organize
in response to President Hugo Chavez's February 4
announcement of the formation of popular defense units
(UDPs). The groups wear civilian clothing with military
patches and drill without weapons, according to press.
During drills, volunteers receive payment (rumored to be
about US $25 per month) and a meal. Rafael Cabrices, a
civilian who fired into a crowd of demonstrators during the
April 2002 coup, is one of the leaders of a suburban Caracas
UDP. Cabrices told a reporter his group of about 120 people
was formed to wage guerrilla warfare in the event of a US
invasion.



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Who's in Charge


--------------------------





3. (C) GOV officials have issued contradictory statements
about how the civilian and military reserves will relate to
each other, and who will lead each force. The National
Assembly's defense committee announced that the new armed
forces organic law--to be discussed by the full assembly in
April--would remove military reserves from Ministry of
Defense auspices and make them answerable to Chavez and the
state governments, according to press reports. During his
March 20 "Alo Presidente" broadcast, Chavez called up Maj.
Gen. Julio Quintero Viloria, the former Armed Forces Joint
Command chief who retired March 4, to lead the reserves and
report directly to the President. Although Chavez referred
principally to military reserves, he noted that military
reserves and popular mobilization "go together like hydrogen
and oxygen in water." DAO contacts described the two forces
as separate institutions, reporting that Gen. Quintero would
take command of the military reserves and that Chavez would
oversee the UDPs. National Security and Defense Council
secretary Maj. Gen. Melvin Lopez Hidalgo described a

SIPDIS
different command structure; specifying that the military
reserves would remain under its current leadership, and
Quintero would assist Chavez in coordinating a "popular"
reserve force.



--------------------------


Who Can Bear Arms?


--------------------------





3. (U) Statements from GOV officials and supporters have
also been unclear about how such civilian militias are to be
armed. Discussing reserve recruitment in February, Chavez
indicated the GOV would seek citizens with skills in armed
combat (REFTEL). Gen. Lopez predicted that in less than a
year, one million people would be trained in asymmetrical
warfare, but they would only be allowed weapons during
training or an actual invasion. Interior Minister Jesse
Chacon cautioned that the UDPs would not be allowed arms, and
any members who carried them would be prosecuted, according
to March 17 press reports. Cabrices argued that armed UDPs
should be autonomous from the military so that they would be
insulated from any military uprising. "If the military knows
... what weapons we have, ... they will shoot us like ducks
in a pond," he warned.



--------------------------


Neighborhood Big Brother


--------------------------





4. (C) Chavez loyalists are also seeking to employ
civilians to inform on potential threats to the revolution.
According to press reports, greater Caracas mayor Juan
Barreto promoted in early March the organization of an
intelligence network of taxi drivers to inform on rich
opposition members. Ideologue for the new civilian militias
Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Lt. Col. (retired) William
Izarra has proposed that some members of civilian units be
charged with intelligence collection. The GOV may have
already begun to form such groups; a neighborhood street
sweeper told a US Embassy officer that he was receiving
monthly 300,000 bolivares (over USD 150--a significant bonus
for a manual laborer) to report on locals driving expensive
vehicles.



--------------------------


Opposition Reaction


--------------------------





5. (C) Chavez opponents have criticized the creation of
civilian units. Accion Democratica president Jesus Mendez
Quijada objected that the new doctrine encourages the
formation of parallel armed groups. Former Defense Minister
Fernando Ochoa Antich lamented that Chavez's personal command
of the new units would destroy the military's "institutional
sense," according to press reports. Retired general-grade
officers told poloff March 17 that morale was waning in the
armed forces because soldiers viewed armed civilian groups as
undermining the military's prominence as the only institution
charged with national defense. One retired general wrote in
an electronically circulated essay that the new doctrine
would allow for greater partisan control over the political
opposition. Another opined that Chavez was creating a
parallel force because he did not trust his own armed forces.




--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





6. (C) Like the development of a new doctrine for the
Venezuelan military, the beefing up of reserve forces and the
establishment of a separate militia under President Chavez's
control are a work in progress. Contradictory or incomplete
information about them will be the norm as GOV officials
often have difficulty staying on message when it is largely
Chavez who is masterminding the process. It is difficult for
us to gauge how the expansion of militias is affecting
military morale. Although some officers have resented the
promotion of officers on the basis of loyalty rather than
competence, such bitterness is mostly limited to the
dwindling ranks of officers politically opposed to Chavez.
The question now is the degree to which this apparent
usurpation of a military's principal role will be tolerated
by an institution that has been undergoing a significant
transformation already.
Brownfield


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2005CARACA00872 - CONFIDENTIAL