The Chavista Armed Forces: Neither Socialist nor Anti-imperialist

Author: Simón Rodríguez Porras | Photos by Oswaldo Pacheco Guzmán (used by Venezuelan Voices with the author’s permission)

The military act commemorating the 6th anniversary of Chávez’s death, on March 5 at the Cuartel de la Montaña, in Caracas, was the scene for Maduro’s recognition of several members of the different components of the armed forces. Some of them were directly involved in the repression of January and February. Speeches were read in homage to the late former president that, in addition to the well-known cult of personality, were brimming with anti-imperialist and patriotic allusions. The unitary boast was actually an attempt to hide the existing divisions in the Venezuelan repressive bodies, of which we have seen numerous symptoms in the last period.

On January 21, a detachment of the Bolivarian National Guard rose up in Cotiza, Caracas, and although it surrendered within a few hours without presenting armed resistance to the authorities, the fact generated large protests of support in the popular neighborhoods that were brutally repressed, with more than 30 people killed in less than a week. Between the end of February and the beginning of March, dozens of soldiers from the middle and lower ranks had deserted, among them the national guards who attacked the security fences of the border bridge with the city of Cúcuta on February 23, while riding in a Chinese-made tank. The division between the rank and file troops and the high command, between those who are hungry and those who enjoy great privileges, is becoming more and more notorious. The policy applied for years by Chavismo, increasing military salaries over inflation, was shipwrecked in the face of hyperinflation, which increasingly reduces the bureaucratic circle of the armed forces that profit from big business by administering PDVSA and military companies of all kinds, including mining; the big deals with arms purchases, port and border control, and state food imports. In addition, there are dozens of ministries, mayors and governors under his command. There are more than 1600 military personnel who have held high government positions during Chavismo, joining the ranks of the ascending Chavista bourgeoisie, popularly known as the Bolibourgeoisie.

These are the reasons behind his support for Maduro, a pragmatism far removed from doctrinal considerations. They are high commanders formed by the Yankee School of the Americas, reactionaries whose pulse does not tremble when it comes to ordering the repression of workers, peasants, indigenous peoples or popular neighborhoods. They are the guarantors of the looting carried out by the imperialist transnationals of oil and mining, the allies of the gold mafias and the gangs controlling the prisons.

Trump and his bishop Guaidó are trying to win them for a coup (see box on the Amnesty Law) and for them to enforce order with blood and fire in the post-chavista period. With the aggravation of the economic and social crisis, it is not unthinkable that this coup policy could be successful. The only significant strip that can be won for the popular cause is that of those ordinary soldiers dissatisfied with the hunger and misery the government has imposed on the population; that sector can refuse to repress the people if there is a massive mobilization. The government, imperialism and its puppet Guaidó fear this possibility.

Amnesty Law, impunity for corruption and repression

On January 25, the National Assembly enacted an amnesty law for civilian and military authorities who break with the government of Nicolás Maduro and support the self-styled interim government of Guaidó. The legal instrument covers crimes of a civil, criminal, administrative, disciplinary and even tax nature, committed from January 1999 to January 2019, eliminating any conviction, trial or open investigation.

For Guaidó and his political leaders in the U.S., it is about bribing members of the military high command to deliver a coup, with the promise that they can withhold dirty money from corruption and enjoy full impunity for crimes related to the repression of popular protests and dissent. For the time being, this policy offers a limited incentive to the high military hierarchy, which does big business and enjoys total impunity with chavismo. It is also at odds with popular expectations of justice.

Chavismo, when it came to power, also covered military crimes for the period 1958-1998 with impunity. Repressionists such as Rodríguez Chacín or Cordero Lara became Chavista leaders and those responsible for the repression of El Caracazo, in which more than two thousand people were murdered, were never brought to justice.

Some soldiers who had already broken with Maduro before the 2019 crisis, such as Hugo Carvajal, accused of alleged links with drug trafficking, or Clíver Alcalá, have placed themselves under Guaidó’s orders. But there has been no break in the institution so far.

In any case, the most significant thing about this law is that it demonstrates the role that imperialism and the opposing right assign to the generals in a post-chavista regime. The offer of impunity and the call for a coup imply that, in the future, they will continue to play the role of political arbiters in Venezuela, occupying spaces of power and influence, as well as their formal recognition as capitalists, by laundering their fortunes. For all these reasons, the Socialism and Freedom Party repudiated Guaidó’s amnesty and warned about the dangers it represents.

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