Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro is using his monopoly on gun ownership in the country to arm millions of civilian “militiamen,” announcing Sunday that he is seeking to elevate the number of armed socialists to 4 million by the end of 2020.
Venezuela banned civilian gun ownership in 2012 under late dictator Hugo Chávez. Maduro has for years violated that law by handing out free firearms to his socialist supporters, creating guerrillas that harass and threaten dissidents into silence.
In the past month, however, he has made the creation of a socialist “militia” – a parallel military to the Bolivarian Armed Forces that answers directly to him – a priority, announcing last week that he had amassed 3 million militiamen and counting.
Maduro has not legally been Venezuela’s head of state since January, when the National Assembly used its constitutional powers to inaugurate Juan Guaidó as interim president in light of the May 2018 fraudulent election that Maduro claims kept him in power. Guaidó has failed to take over the presidential palace or take over any presidential duties, first and foremost that of the commander-in-chief, and instead engaged in months of “dialogue” with Maduro despite his lack of legitimacy in office.
Maduro’s socialists control the military, which experts believe operates as a drug trafficking organized crime syndicate, but the development of the alternative guerrillas indicates Maduro is losing trust in the military leadership, shoring up power through a separate, illegal army.
State propaganda network VTV broadcast a mandatory public appearance by Maduro on Sunday in which he boasted that, since the last time he updated the nation on his illegal army, he had recruited another 300,000 “militiamen.”
“We have made advances,” he told a crowd at an event in which thousands of members of the guerrilla Maduro is calling the “National Bolivarian Militia” swore fealty to Maduro. “3 million, 300,000 militiamen and militiawomen and now the goal for the year 2020 is 4 million nationwide. According to Maduro, the over 3 million armed socialists are divided among over 14,000 “popular” bases, meaning informal gang cells, one for every school in the country, as well as another set of gangs known a the “Popular Groups for Integral Defense” (APDI). The rest are divided into nearly 64,000 popular “units,” which are different from the groups in that they terrorize Venezuelan civilians block by block, rather than being divided by church parishes like the APDI.
Felicito al Comandante de la Milicia y a los Comandantes Generales de Componentes de la FANB por el gran logro de sobrepasar los 3 millones de milicianos y milicianas. Son 1 mil 141 APDI, 14 mil 383 BPDI, 63 mil 890 UPDI con presencia en más de 160 mil calles a nivel nacional. pic.twitter.com/g3rJscvLO2
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) December 9, 2019
Thousands of roving, deadly socialist gangs threatening dissidents nationwide who have no legal right to own a weapon “is only possible in participative and protagonistic democracy,” Maduro proclaimed.
Maduro swore the socialists into the militia with an oath that reads in part, “I swear … I will be loyal to the dream of the liberators, the sword of Simón Bolívar, the legacy of Hugo Chávez.” The oath does require the fighters to be loyal to the armed forces, which tethers them nominally to the legitimate military of the nation.
Felicito a todo el pueblo que se inscribió y preparó para formar parte activa de nuestra gran Milicia Bolivariana. Pueblo en Armas que juró ser leal al legado de nuestros libertadores, a Bolívar, a Chávez y a la Constitución. ¡Rumbo a los 4 Millones de Milicianos y Milicianas! pic.twitter.com/GU1NQe6OPI
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) December 9, 2019
Maduro vowed that he would force the Bolivarian armed forces to soon legalize the militias as an official part of the armed forces, a tacit recognition that their existence was currently illegal.
“We are talking about the deepening of democracy because we are giving military people to the people of Venezuela like the constitution demands,” Maduro said, without explaining where the constitution mandates the creation of illegal armies.
Iran, one of Maduro’s closest allies, similarly built up a deadly terrorist army in neighboring Iraq and later forced the government there to legalize it. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF/PMU) are a coalition of mostly Shiite militias, including the Hezbollah Brigades and other terrorist organizations. The United States fought alongside with, though did not have formal alliances with, the PMF in the fight against the Sunni terrorists of the Islamic State, legitimizing them enough for Baghdad to later crown them a formal wing of the armed forces. The PMF have now vowed to eradicate American troops and their Kurdish allies from the region.
Both Chávez and Maduro for years used armed gangs known as colectivos to intimidate, attack, and kill anti-socialist dissidents. Maduro did not start openly arming socialists until 2017, however, when he announced that he would hand out 400,000 guns to anyone loyal to his regime, a violation of Chávez’s gun control laws. At the time, he announced he wanted to arm 1 million “militiamen,” a number he has tripled since then.
To accompany the mass arming, Maduro also put on makeshift “boot camps” in the streets of Venezuela’s major cities, where socialists jumped through tires on the floor, simulated battle scenarios, and otherwise appeared to train for an invasion by the United States, which Maduro has been warning for years could occur at any time.
Last week, Maduro announced his regime had crossed the 3 million recruitment threshold, proclaiming, “we want every factory to be a barracks.”
“The better prepared we are, the better armed we are, to defend the country against American imperialism and the Colombian oligarchy, we can guarantee peace, production, and progress to our beloved nation,” he added. Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of damaging the nation’s electric grid – which, in reality, has been deteriorating for years under socialist mismanagement – in attacks meant to turn the already overwhelmingly negative political sentiment towards Maduro even sourer.