Venezuela - Chavez's Bolivarian Military Machine: A Cuban Model for Internal Repression
By John Sweeney
Caracas 26.09.05 | The new Organic Law of the National Armed Forces (LOFAN), approved in September by the National Assembly, establishes the legal, organizational and command and control structures of Venezuela's new national security doctrine, which was adopted officially in July 2005. Senior government and military officials claim the LOFAN contains a mix of concepts adapted from the United States , Cuba , and other European and Latin American countries. However, this claim is utter nonsense. The LOFAN is mainly based on the Cuban military model.
The LOFAN legally enshrines three core missions for the armed forces of Venezuela (FAN). First, protect the president, his family and his closest associates at all times. Second, maintain internal order against internal threats to the president. Third, defend the president against external threats. Although Chavez routinely rants about the need to strengthen the country’s FAN to resist a military invasion by the United States , the new LOFAN explicitly defines the FAN’s primary mission as defending the stability of the Chavez regime against internal threats and disruptions. It is a law that essentially empowers the Venezuelan military to legally kill Venezuelan civilians that Chavez considers a threat.
However, Article 3 of the LOFAN also explicitly empowers the Bolivarian FAN to “resist the occupation of the country by invading military forces (by all means) including actions of prevention against hostile forces that show that intention.” In effect, the LOFAN explicitly empowers the Bolivarian FAN to launch pre-emptive military invasions of other countries to prevent those countries from invading Venezuela . Under the new national security doctrine copied from Cuba by the Chavez government, the United States is Venezuela ’s biggest external enemy, followed by Colombia . It’s doubtful that Chavez will airdrop paratroopers over downtown Miami or Washington, D.C., but a conventional conflict scenario involving Colombia is not unthinkable – particularly as Chavez builds a Bolivarian military force that could easily top three million persons within the next five years.
The new LOFAN also empowers the FAN to engage in joint actions with the armed forces of other countries – most obviously, Cuba – to defend the integrationist vision of Simon Bolivar. Clearly, this joint defense could entail Cuban military deployments on Venezuelan territory to defend Chavez, or Venezuelan military deployments to Cuba to defend the Castro government against a U.S. invasion.
There are several aspects of the LOFAN that merit comment. First, it establishes a highly vertical command and control system that places all power over the FAN, plus the new civilian reserve and territorial guard, in the hands of the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela . The command-and-control system for the civilian reserve and territorial guard are independent of the regular FAN’s command and control systems. In effect, this means the president exerts direct control over a civilian reserve that reportedly already totals over 300,000 volunteers and eventually will number about 2.6 million persons or 10 percent of the Venezuelan population. With all polls since 2001 showing that Chavez can count on a very hardcore political base of about 30 percent of the voter population, the Bolivarian revolution shouldn’t have any trouble exceeding its volunteer reserve recruitment targets. If the FAN should rebel against Chavez someday, the president could deploy his volunteer reserves to defend his regime against the FAN.
Second, the president has exclusive operational command of the FAN, the reserve and the territorial guard. The LOFAN defines “operational” as any activities involving the deployment of troops to carry out the main mission of protecting the president and preserving public order. In effect, next time Chavez orders that tanks be deployed to fire on civilians he wants to make sure no one will block or ignore his commands.
Third, the LOFAN establishes new military zones, as distinct from theaters of operation that would constitute the jurisdictional framework of the government’s plan to bind the Bolivarian FAN tightly to the government’s political imperatives. Each zone will have its own command and control organization, and one of the chief missions of these local commanders will be to maintain an updated strategic inventory of all strategic assets within their zones, meaning infrastructure like roads and communications, detailed lists of civilian and territorial guard units and their deployment, and productive assets (i.e. businesses).
Although Chavez has declared that the reserve would total 10 percent of the population or some 2.6 million persons, the LOFAN stipulates that all Venezuelans of military age not on active military duty are required to be members of the reserve. In times of conflict, such as a U.S. military invasion, the Bolivarian FAN and reserves would be combined into the Territorial Guard, which would be directly under the president’s command-and-control. Interestingly, the LOFAN doesn’t stipulate what steps should be followed if the commander-in-chief of the Bolivarian FAN, reserves and Territorial Guard, should become incapacitated in times of combat.
How Cuban is this new military organizational model enshrined in the LOFAN? Consider how the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (FAR) are organized. Since its inception, the FAR’s mission has been to protect and continue the revolution's accomplishments and preserve its status quo. It sees the United States as its principal external threat. To carry out this mission, Cuba's armed forces utilizes multiple doctrines of warfare – conventional, unconventional, and irregular warfare – that are implemented dependent on the existing situation. There exists a conventional doctrine for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which is based on a "system of scientific criteria" of the principles of military science and operational as well as tactical art, and also that the Cuban forces must be prepared to wage conventional, unconventional and clandestine warfare.
A basis for such doctrines can be attributed to the influence and training by the former Soviet Union 's military. It can be said that FAR has adopted Soviet military doctrine and organizational principles, with some modifications to suit the smaller size and less sophisticated armament of the Cuban forces. This influence is exemplified by the use of an offensive doctrine as used in Cuba 's Third World campaigns. However, in an invasion of the island by U.S. forces, the FAR would implement a defensive doctrine that is its centerpiece of military doctrine.
The "War of All the People" doctrine (essentially an asymmetrical conflict doctrine), is a defensive strategy that tries to counter an overwhelming invasion force. This strategy envisions an armed populace willing to fight for the defense of the homeland. It was announced in 1980 with the creation of the Territorial Troop Militia (MTT) (the LOFAN establishes the Territorial Guard and civilian reserves) to increase the defense capability of the country. Fidel Castro stated that the MTT was necessitated in order to be "ready for combat operations not only using regular troops, but with the participation of the entire people." (Chavez has made identical remarks about the LOFAN and Venezuela ’s new national security doctrine).
Such a strategy of mass mobilization of the populace to assist conventional forces is not a new concept. During the French Revolution, citizens were used to fill the need for soldiers. In early 1793, 300,000 men were called for, to be conscripted if they would not volunteer, and in August the decree of the levé en masse, putting all fit males at the disposal of the Republic, was promulgated. A recent example of this strategy is seen during the Vietnam War where guerrilla fighters assisted the regular forces of the North Vietnamese. This assistance was not the sole reason but only part of the North Vietnamese success. External assistance from the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China was vital to the success of this strategy that Cuba presently lacks.
The models for the creation of the MTT and the doctrine of the War of the People were said to be the Soviet partisan movement during World War II in German occupied regions of the USSR and especially the Vietnamese concept of guerrilla struggle against superior forces of foreign occupiers, that is, France and the United States .
The civilian military reserve, the territorial guard and the reorganization of Venezuela territorially into military zones – rather than military theaters of operation – are replicated from Cuba ’s national defense model and the organization of its military. The Cuban model envisions that the revolution’s ultimate battle against the Yankee invader will take place in Havana and will involve all Cubans – men, women and children. The Cuban model considers the United States to be the revolution’s greatest external threat. At the same time, the Cuban national security and defense model is also organized to beat back internal revolt swiftly and mercilessly.
The Chavez government’s national security and defense doctrine is identical to Castro’s model. The U.S. is the Bolivarian revolution’s greatest external threat. The final battle of the Bolivarian revolution against the invading Yankee foe would occur in Caracas . The “asymmetrical warfare” verbiage coming from Chavez and his generals is a complete copy of the Cuban model’s “all people’s war” against the U.S. military invasion. At the same time, however, the LOFAN and the FAN’s current deployments are also meant to ensure that Chavez cannot be overthrown by an internal military rebellion or popular revolt.
Venezuela’s new national security and defense doctrine, as enacted legislatively in the new LOFAN, confirms the Chavez government's complete elimination of ties between the FAN and the U.S. military, and the consolidation of a new military alliance with Cuba. Chavez plans to modernize and expand the FAN with new infantry and advanced weapons, communications and surveillance systems acquired mainly from Russia, China and Brazil. Cuban military advisers would train the FAN's personnel in the use of new weapons systems ranging from assault rifles to tanks and fighter aircraft.
The FAN in Numbers
The Venezuelan armed forces (FAN) have approximately 82,300 military personnel on active duty, including the National Guard and about 31,000 conscripts. The FAN has four service branches including the army, air force, navy, and National Guard.
The army is organized into six infantry divisions. These six divisions are made up by seven infantry brigades with 18 infantry battalions, one mechanized infantry battalion and four field artillery battalions; plus one armored brigade; one cavalry brigade; one light armored brigade, one ranger brigade with four battalions; one ranger brigade with two battalions; one aviation regiment; one airborne brigade; one mobile counter-insurgency brigade with two special forces battalions, one mechanized infantry battalion and one civil affairs battalion; one military police brigade; and two engineer regiments.
The army is the only branch of the FAN with a reserves force that totals approximately 8,000 personnel. These reserves are organized into four infantry battalions, one ranger battalion, one armor battalion, one artillery battalion, and two engineer regiments.
The army’s total active manpower was relatively low as of September 2005, numbering about 34,000 troops on active duty including about 27,000 conscripts.
Army Headquarters including the Aviation, Logistic and Reserve commands are based in Caracas at Fort Tiuna. The I Infantry Division, which includes the 11th and 13th Infantry Brigades, is based in Maracaibo . However, the 13th Infantry Brigade is based in Barquisimeto . The II Infantry Division, which includes the 21st and 22nd Infantry Brigades and the 23rd Special Security Brigade, maintains its headquarters in San Cristobal . However, the 22nd Infantry Brigade and 23rd Special Security Brigade are based in Merida and Brinas, respectively.
The III Infantry Division maintains its headquarters at Fort Tiuna in Caracas . The III division includes the 31st Infantry Brigade, 34th Combat Communications Regiment and 35th Military Police Regiment at Fort Tiuna , and the 33rd Counter-Insurgency Brigade based in Maturin . The IV Armored Division maintains its headquarters in Maracay. Its components include the 42nd Parachute Brigade in Maracay, the 41st Armored Brigade in Valencia, the 43rd Motorized Cavalry Brigade in San Fernando, and the 44th Light Armored Brigade in San Juan de los Morros.
The V Infantry Division is headquartered in Ciudad Bolivar. Its components include the 51st Jungle Brigade in Luepa and the 52nd Jungle Brigade in Puerto Ayacucho. The VI Engineer Corps is based in Caracas. Its components include the 61st, 62nd and 63rd Engineer Regiments.
The army’s weapons are a mix of U.S., French, Brazilian, British, Italian and Israeli systems. These weapons systems include 81 French-made AMX-30 main battle tanks (MBT) and 36 AMX-13 light tanks, 80 British Scorpion-90 light tanks and 75 U.S.-made M18 Hellcat tank destroyers.
The army’s main field artillery systems include 40 U.S.-made 105-mm M101A1 towed howitzers, and 40 Italian-made 105-mm Model 56 pack-towed howitzers. The army also has 12 U.S.-made 155-mm M114 towed howitzers, and 10 French-made 155-mm MkF3 self-propelled howitzers. Other weapons systems in the army’s artillery arsenal include 175 U.S.-made 106-mm M40A1 recoilless rifles, 20 Israeli 160-mm LAR-160 self-propelled rocket launchers, 24 Israeli Mapats 2 anti-tank missiles, 60 French 120-mm Brandt mortars and 165 Brandt 81-mm mortars.
For reconnaissance and personnel transport needs, the army has 30 U.S.-made M8 Greyhound reconnaissance vehicles, 100 V-100 Commando transports (U.S.), 30 LAV-150 Commando transports (U.S.), 100 Dragoons including some mounted with 90-mm cannon (U.S.), 35 Brazilian EE-11 Urutu vehicles, and 25 French AMX-VCI tracked personnel carriers.
The army aviation component is very small, including only five IAI-201 Arava transports from Israel and two Czech-made M-28 Skytrucks. Also, the army has five Cessna utility and communications aircraft, and 26 helicopters including eight Italian AS-61 A/D Sea King transports, four UH-1H Hueys, seven Italian A109A transport/attack helicopters, and seven Bell utility and communications helicopters.
President Chavez in June 2005 approved a contract buying eight Mi-35 attack helicopters from Russia .
Air Force (FAV)
The FAV has about 7,000 personnel and is organized into three major air commands, including a Combat Command, Logistics Command and Air Training Command. There is also a small air defense group. Nationally the FAV is organized into five air zones. Within these air zones the FAV deploys three fighter groups, three transport groups, two special operations air groups, one tactical air training group, and one air training group. The aviation component of the National Guard functions as a communications and combat reserve force for the FAV.
FAV headquarters is located in Caracas. The I Air Zone is headquartered in Maracaibo and its components include the 15 Spec Ops Group formed by the 151 Squadron (OV/10A/E) and 152 Squadron (EMB-312 COIN). The II Air Zone maintains its headquarters in Barquisimeto, and its components include the 12 Fighter Group formed by the 35 Squadron (F-5B) and 36 Squadron (F-5A/B). The III Air Zone is based at Palo Negro near Maracay, and is formed by the 6 Air Transport Group, 10 Spec Ops Group, 11 Interceptor/Attack Group, 16 Fighter Group, and 14 Training Group. Palo Negro is where all of the FAV’s fighter and interceptor/attack aircraft, Italian G222 and U.S. C-130 transports and the French transport/attack helicopter forces are based.
The IV Air Zone in Barcelona is formed by the 13 Training and Combat Group, which has been temporarily disbanded. The V Air Zone is based in Caracas-Miranda and its components include the 4 and 5 Transport Groups. The FAV also maintains Forward Air Bases in Santo Domingo and San Antonio del Tachira.
The FAV’s main fighter systems include 18 U.S.-made F-16A and four F-16B Falcons, and 16 Mirage 50 EV/DV’s manufactured by France. The FAV also has 15 OV-10A/10E Bronco counter-insurgency (COIN) fixed-wing aircraft, 12 CF-5A and four CF-5B Freedom fighters, seven NF-5A/B Freedom Fighters, and 20 Brazilian EMB-312 COIN turboprop aircraft. The FAV is responsible for providing the army’s troop transport needs. Its transport fleet includes five U-S,-made C-130H Hercules and eight Italian G222 transports.
The FAV’s transport and attack helicopter fleet includes 18 Mi-8 and 17 Hip Russian helicopters, 17 UH-1D/H utility and gunship helicopters, 19 French Aloutette III liaison craft, and seven AS 332B Super Puma transports.
The FAV also includes a small air defense group equipped with 94 Swedish and Italian 40-mm anti-aircraft systems, and 10 French-made Roland surface to air missile systems.
Since the start of 2005 the Chavez government has launched a program to acquire new advanced fighters and helicopters from several countries including Spain, Russia and Brazil. The FAV ordered 10 Casa 295 transport aircraft from Spain in March 2005. Chavez also plans to buy 24 Brazilian Super Tucano attack aircraft, and possibly as many as 50 Russian fighters including MiG-29 Fulcrums, and Su27 and Su-25 Flankers. The Chavez government also has ordered nine more Mi-17 Hip and one Mi-26 Halo helicopters, and reportedly also plans to buy an unknown number of Mi-24 Hi8nd assault helicopters.
The Venezuelan navy has about 18,300 personnel, including 7,800 marines, 500 naval aviation and 1,000 coast guard personnel. The navy is organized into five operational commands, including Fleet, Marine Infantry, Naval Aviation, Coast Guard and Riverine Forces. There are two regional commands – Eastern and Western; however, new Central and Southern naval zones will be created soon as a result of the new LOFAN approved in September 2005. These new zones will maintain their headquarters at Puerto Cabello and Caicara del Orinoco, respectively. The Marine Infantry was reorganized in 2001 into a single division.
Navy command headquarters is located in Caracas . Eastern Naval Zone headquarters in in Carupano and Western Naval Zone headquarters is in Punto Fijo. Fleet command is headquartered in Puerto Cabello with bases in Punto Fijo and Ciudad Bolivar. Coast Guard headquarters is in La Guaira, with additional bases in Maracaibo, Punto Fijo, Puerto Cabello, Guanta, Pampatar and Guiria. Marine Division headquarters is located at Mamo, where the Naval Academy is also located. Naval aviation command is at La Carlota in Caracas .
Fleet Command’s components include four squadrons: submarine, frigate, patrol forces and amphibious/service. Marine Infantry Command is organized as a division whose chief components include two amphibious assault brigades with six infantry battalions; one river assault brigade with three infantry battalions; one engineer brigade with four engineer battalions; one mixed artillery group with three field batteries and one air defense battery; one amphibious vehicle battalion; and one special operations command.
Naval Aviation Commands chief components include an anti-submarine warfare helicopter squadron, a tactical support squadron, a transport squadron, a helicopter squadron and a training squadron. Coast Guard Command is formed by a ship squadron and an underwater salvage company. The Riverine Command is formed by a river squadron and five riverine naval posts manned by marines.
Venezuela’s navy is not a blue-water navy, meaning it does not have the capability to project force outside Venezuela’s maritime borders. The Navy’s main weapons systems include six Italian LUPO missile frigates and two submarines (German Type 209/1300 design). The navy also operates six fast-attack patrol boats, 60 river patrol boats of various sizes, and a dozen amphibious, auxiliary and hydrographic survey craft.
Coast Guard Command’s mission is to patrol Venezuela ’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but it is formally a branch of the navy and would be mobilized for combat in the event of war. The coast guard’s fleet includes two British frigates and 25 patrol craft.
The majority of the navy's aircraft are land-based, with the primary naval air station located at Caracas. Venezuela bought four patrol corvettes and four coastal patrol boats from Spain in March 2005. The deal also included 10 C-295 cargo planes.
The National Guard is a ready reserve force that serves a border patrol, internal and rear-area security function. The National Guard has infantry, artillery and aviation components. The total active manpower of the National Guard is approximately 23,000. The maritime patrol component functions like a coast guard, but uses navy ships and equipment. The Venezuelan National Guard is organized into eight regional commands consisting of five infantry battalions, one armored battalion, one artillery group, and one logistics support battalion.
The National Guard maritime component operates 59 coastal patrol vessels, 18 communications/utility fixed-wing aircraft (Cessna, Beechcraft, Russian Skytrucks), 26 helicopters (Bell, and Italian Hirundos), 44 German UR-416 and 6614 Fiat armored personnel carriers, and 150 French Brandt mortars (81-mm and 60-mm).
FAN’s Poor Operational Readiness
Chavez has maintained for several years that Venezuela's side of the border with Colombia is heavily defended by some 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers reinforced with armor, air and ground transport and electronic surveillance systems designed to locate and identify potential enemies, including Colombian rebels. This claim is inaccurate. Operational readiness levels within the FAN have been very poor throughout Chavez’s presidency. The low operational readiness and manpower levels in the FAN are reflected in the increasingly unstable situation along Venezuela ’s border with Colombia .
Why is the Venezuelan border with Colombia so unstable? Criminal and political violence is spilling increasingly into Venezuelan territory for two reasons. One, the Chavez government has a tacit non-aggression pact with the revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Chavez is on record as sympathizing with ther Bolivarian ambitions of the FARC and ELN in Colombia. Two, the border is increasingly chaotic because the FAN is tactically and operationally incapable of keeping Colombian rebel groups outside Venezuelan territory.
Since the end of 2004 the Chavez government has signed a series of contracts or announced negotiations to acquire new army, air force and navy weapons systems. Separately, the Chavez government has invested substantial sums in buying paramilitary equipment (handguns, automatic weapons, body armor) to strengthen its political and civilian security forces.
The main purchase made to date was the contract for 100,000 Russian AK-103 and AK-104 assault rifles. The first shipment will arrive in October 2005, reportedly, and when all of the new rifles are received Venezuela’s stock of automatic assault weapons will have doubled to more than 200,000, including the new Russian rifles and the old FAL 7.62-mm rifles that will be decommissioned from the FAN and reportedly distributed to elite forces in the new civilian military reserve. Additionally, Chavez reportedly has quietly negotiated the purchase of another 150,000 AK-47 assault rifles from North Korea’s government. If this report is accurate, it means that within a year or two Chavez’s Bolivarian FAN and civilian reserve could be armed with over 350,000 assault rifles.
These assault rifles are the most significant arms purchase Chavez has made to date. An arsenal of this size gives Chavez the potential to ruthlessly crush internal revolt against his increasingly dictatorial regime, and also supply weapons clandestinely to radical militant groups in Colombia and other Latin American countries.
Chavez is using Venezuela’s oil wealth and Fidel Castro’s political advice to foment instability across the region. The prime targets are Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and El Salvador. If Chavez and Castro can destabilize nominally pro-U.S. governments in these countries they can literally push the U.S. out of Latin America strategically. Chavez and Castro also are quietly seeking to destabilize the Dominican Republic, and encourage political unrest in Jamaica. Chavez and Castro also want to pull Panama into their orbit of influence, and support radical groups in Mexico – although Mexico is a long-term target for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).
Venezuela’s citizens are the group at greatest risk from Chavez’s expanding military machine. The FAN cannot project force outside Venezuela’s borders. However, it is more than sufficiently equipped today to suppress internal disruptions quickly. As the new Russian and North Korean assasult rifles start to arrive, the FAN’s ability to function as the president’s main instrument of internal repression will grow significantly. Nevertheless, Venezuela’s oil wealth, the Cuban regime’s regional intelligence network and its vast experience in fomenting instability, and the purchase by Chavez of 100,000 to 250,000 assault rifles likely also will be a lethal mix in Latin America for years to come.
jppsweeney at vcrisis.com
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