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The Military Components of The Venezuelan Crisis

Por Augusto W. M. Teixeira Júnior*
Aaron Campos Marcelino**


Since the rise to power of Hugo Chavez, Bolivarianism has changed the ideological landscape of Latin America. With the decline of the Cuban Revolution as a political model to the region since the fall of the USSR, Venezuela under Chávez quickly emerged as a hope for the leftist movements now under the banner of 21st century Socialism. More than 15 years from the rise of Chávez, Nicolás Maduro seems to be leading the collapse of this political project. The deep crisis currently ongoing in Venezuela affects not only its government, but mainly its people, economic and political institutions. One of the enduring effects of an increasingly divided society is a progressive lack of social cohesion. Thus, departing from the Clausewitzian Trinity (the government, the military and the people) this brief article aims mainly to shed a light on the military components of the Venezuelan crisis for a better understanding of the regional security dimension.

  1. The government and the dark side of the civilian control over the militaries

An enduring problem in Latin America was the lack of civilian control over the militaries. With strong bureaucracies, an enduring collective memory and political role in their societies, the military in several Latin-American countries were the main political force. In some cases, the military took the political power by Coup d’État. Differently from other Latin American counterparts, as Argentina, Brazil and Chile, Venezuela had a good historical background of civilian control over the militaries. Hugo Chávez, a former military professional, acted to change this structure. Acknowledging that Venezuela was in a revolutionary process, Chávez understood that radical changes could only survive the test of time if protected by force, even when dealing with a democratic regime. In this sense, he brought Venezuelan military into the political arena, not only giving important roles in the government but also changing its loyalty towards the new ideological rhetoric. Since 1998, the military are more political active and the relation between the Executive branch of the government, especially the President and the Armed Forces, have been closer and direct. Therefore, what we call the dark side of civilian control over the militaries is the use of the coercive branch of the state power to the government’s interest and needs. The military, as an institution, serves the state and the people, not the government’s ideologies.

  1. The Military: Embracing a broader concept of war

After the failed Coup d’État attempt against Chávez in 2002, Venezuelan authorities understood that the revolutionary process was in danger. The changes of government, a classical objective of Clausewitzian concept of War, could be possible due to political and social unrest, guided for illegal political purposes. As a result, the classical idea of revolutionary war meets the concept of Fourth Generation Warfare. The Venezuelan government realized that it’s major enemy, the United States, could put in risk the Bolivarian regime not only directly, as it did against the Ba’athist party in Iraq, but by using regional proxies like Colombia. In this scenario, Fourth Generation Warfare made sense. Given that Venezuela must be prepared to deter conventional foreign aggressions by means of irregular warfare, it gradually began a substantial arms buildup in the last decade. With its traditional suppliers denying access to new arms systems and other supplies, Russia and China emerged as important trade partners in the arms trade business with Venezuela. Additionally, Cuba became more present, not only providing political guidance to the regime but with training and irregular war doctrine. Hence, the grammar of war and the idea of conflict has been forever in the Bolivarian political discourse. The belief of permanent threat and attempts of jeopardizing the regime helps to explain how Venezuela has no problem in equating the use (or threat) of force within its foreign policy in the region. Ask the Guyana and Colombia about this.

  1. The people in arms

The constant idea of a possible incoming war reached the people. In this sense, the regime created popular and citizen brigades under direct control of the President, acting as a paramilitary force which was armed and trained to fight a war of resistance, if necessary. Also, common people, such as civil servants and social moment workers, were armed and trained to shoot assault rifles and manage Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) as the Russian manufactured Igla-S. The awareness that there is a revolution to be defended has become a reality by offering the means of force for the people to defend a now impossible feature to detach: the regime, its ideology and the country. It is important to state that Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in Latin American. The distribution of small arms and ammunition to the popular brigades has caused problems in other countries, as Venezuelan AKs popping in Rio favelas or in the hands of FARC operatives.

Concluding these remarks, we can argue that contemporary Venezuelan crisis is not only about democracy, Mercosur or the inability of Nicolás Maduro to rule. Today’s crisis has an important military and security component that derives from the dismantling of long date functioning institutions, as the healthy civilian control over the militaries. A regime in route to collapse, a political system controlled by the Executive branch and a broad charter of force instruments in the hand of a President in peril makes a good picture of a clock bomb waiting to explode in northern South America.


Ph.D In Political Science at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), head of the Research Group of Strategic Studies and International Security (GEESI) and Professor at the Department of International Relations of the Federal University of Paraiba (UFPB), Brazil.

** Bachelor in International Relations at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB) and member of the Research Group of Strategic Studies and International Security (GEESI). 


CLAUSEWITZ, Carl von. Da guerra. Tradução de Maria Tereza Ramos. 3ª ed. São Paulo: Editora WMF Martins Fontes, 2010. [Clássicos Martins Fontes].

DIETERICH, Heins. La Integración Militar del Bloque Regional de Poder Latinoamericano. Caracas: Instituto Municipal de Publicaciones, 2004.

LIND, William S. “Understanding Fourth Generation War”. Military Review, September-October, 2004.


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