It's interesting to read Venezuela's military rhetoric about the U.S. back in 2005, in light of what's going on today.
Reservists to counteract US - Lopez Hidalgo
By Jens Erik Gould
Daily Journal Staff
"Fourth generation warfare" allegedly committed by the United States against Venezuela is behind the government's aggressive plan to expand its military reserves, said the Inspector General of the National Armed Forces (FAN) in an exclusive interview with The Daily Journal on Tuesday.
The reason? The world covets Venezuela's enormous petroleum reserves at a time when global supplies are dwindling, said Gen. Melvin LÛpez Hidalgo, who assumed his new post last week.
"It's not against the people of the United States, but specifically against the hostile attitude of President Bush," he said.
According LÛpez Hidalgo, this fourth generation conflict, which refers to decentralized modern war in which the lines between war and politics are blurred, has led Venezuela to boost its capacity for "asymmetric warfare," a conflict in which two belligerents are mismatched in their military capabilities.
When asked how Venezuela could stand up to the U.S.' military might in the case of action, he cited the Vietnam War and the current violence in Iraq as examples of successful asymmetric responses against Washington.
"They can come in here, embark, bomb us, et cetera, but the people can respond," he said. "That is the integration and union of a people so it can respond to aggression."
President Hugo Ch·vez' call earlier this year to boost the reserves to over 2 million men "created an expectation" that has propelled citizens across the country to register, the Inspector said.
While the Inspector declined to specify how many people were currently registered for the reserves, he said the government was shooting for a total of 2.5 million, or approximately 10 percent of the population, and aimed to enroll 1 million by the end of the year. When asked if the number had already reached 500,000 he said "we could talk about that number."
LÛpez Hidalgo called it a "fact" that "all the people that intervened in the coup d'Ètat" staged in April 2002 against President Hugo Ch·vez "were supported by the U.S. government." He said that the supposed US involvement "opened our eyes" to the nation's need for more men in arms.
The US government denies any participation in the coup. Yet the Inspector offered assurances that during the coup, a U.S. submarine was located off the Venezuelan coast, U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were in the country and that the U.S. coordinated exercises with personnel ready to join the coup. He added that Washington had requested that evidence of these actions be erased.
The Inspector also repeated claims made last month by President Hugo Ch·vez that the United States supported a strategic plan to invade Venezuela-called the Balboa Plan-which he said was simulated in Spain in 2001.
He insisted that the plan was backed by the United Nations and NATO, and was designed to cut the country in half, "destroy the military bases, ... bomb all the airports, ...destroy all the airplanes, ... and destroy bridges."
LÛpez Hidalgo even cited a recent amendment passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to counteract the Venezuela-backed television station Telesur as an example of fourth generation warfare. "They will try to intercept and neutralize the electromagnetic waves of our sovereign air space," he said. "That calls us to wake up and respond."
The Inspector would not say whether the recent acquisition of Russian rifles and Brazilian war planes was related to the plan to boost Venezuela's asymmetric capability. Nor did he reveal whether more purchases were in the works. He did, however, point out that the request to purchase the Russian rifles was made even before Ch·vez came to power in 1998.
He said that military force could come from neighboring Colombia, but only if it were supported by the United States. "We understand that (Colombia's alliance with the United States) is not a position of the Colombian people, but a foreign position that affects the Colombian and Venezuelan people," he said.
Ch·vez opponents have accused the government of boosting the reserves in order to counteract its supposed mistrust of the Armed Forces after the military participation in the 2002 coup d'etat. Yet LÛpez Hidalgo called these claims "completely false" and guaranteed that the government now had more confidence in the FAN than ever.
"There are admirals, colonels, et cetera, that participated in coup, and now regret it," LÛpez Hidalgo said. "Many people opened their eyes."
Also, a plan to "generate confidence" in the FAN, which the Inspector called one of his main projects, included efforts by the Attorney General and military courts to reopen investigations against officers who were accused of participating in the coup, which he called "fundamentally military." Some of the most important cases involved Commander Efrain Vasquez Velasco, Vice Admiral Hector RamÌrez PÈrez and General Enrique Medina Gomez, he said.
The Inspector repeated several times that these men and others were "still (living) at home," and said his goal was for these men and others "to assume responsibility." "The worst that can happen in this country is that impunity wins," he said.
LÛpez Hidalgo also claimed that the population "feels more relaxes with this (reserves) initiative." "Because it is not only the Armed Forces that will safeguard the security of nation, but the (1999) Constitution establishes co-responsibility for the defense of country. We are applying the Bolivarian Constitution, which is a willingness of people of Venezuela," he said.
The make-up of the reserves
The reserves do appear to be expanding upwards from the 60,000 men that the Inspector said were registered before Ch·vez' announcement. Lt. Col. Pablo Cabarga Mota, who manages the military's reserves unit in the Caracas suburb 23 de enero, told The Daily Journal last month that the number of people registered in his unit had increased from 1,500 to 6,000 since the start of the year.
The Inspector explained that some citizens have "taken the initiative" to begin training even though the Organic Law of the National Armed Forces - which establishes the organization and budget of the reserves - has not yet been passed. One program in the Caracas suburb of El Paraiso trains hundreds of citizens in civilian clothes every week.
Under the new law, the reserves budget will depend upon the Executive rather than the Ministry of Defense. He also mentioned that Ch·vez proposed paying reservists a subsidy of Bs. 16,000 per day, which he said was more than they received today.
Reserves units would also be developed within national industries and said various training operations had already been carried out within the petroleum industry.
But LÛpez Hidalgo assured that the reservists would only train with FAN arms, and would not have access to arms outside of training. He also said instead of taking up arms, some reservists would work in social development programs along with FAN soldiers. 3 years of training would be required to become official reservists.
A peaceful buildup?
Some consider the concept of a peaceful military buildup an oxymoron, and government opponents have gone as far as claiming that the government is creating a new military body to squash internal dissent.
Even so, the Inspector offered assurances that the movement was not "bellicose" and that Venezuela was "not preparing to invade anyone." "With that we don't want to worry anyone, nor any neighboring country. On the contrary, we want to show that we are ready to defend our territory until the end."
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.