Militias march to defend Bolivarian Venezuela

“Every 11 has its 13.” Under this slogan, the Day of National Dignity and the Day of the Bolivarian Militia was held on April 13 in Venezuela. The slogan refers to the coup d’état carried out by the oligarchy with U.S. assistance, to remove President Hugo Chávez on April 11, 2002, but which the people, with the members in the Armed Forces faithful to Chávez, reversed 48 hours later, on April 13.

This union of the Armed Forces with the people, the civilian-military union, is what was being celebrated this April 13. This year, however, this annual celebration has a deeper meaning, as the government is facing another coup. This time it is a “soft” coup, one continuing to be carried out by the same elements as in 2002. To date the progressive Bolivarian forces are prevailing.

It was a colossal demonstration this April 13. Thousands of people who compose the Bolivarian Militias — youth, seniors, peasants, workers — marched, filling wide avenues of Caracas, ending in front of the Miraflores Palace where President Nicolás Maduro spoke.

What are the Bolivarian militias?

The Venezuelan National Bolivarian Militia is an armed civilian defense body that complements the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. It is voluntary and exists throughout the country, composed of Venezuelans of age 17 and older who are not in active military service. They receive instruction and military training.

It is the people armed in defense of the revolution and the civilian part of the “civilian-military unity.” In 2013, President Nicolás Maduro called for strengthening this union by creating the Workers’ Militia. He said, “The working class will become more and more respected. It will be further respected if the workers’ militias have 300,000 — 500,000 — one or two million working men and women in uniform and armed ready to defend the homeland.” (VTV, May 2013)

During his speech this April 13, President Maduro promoted workers of the university sector, public service, health, electric, agriculture, construction, rail and oil sectors to the rank of first lieutenant.

The worker-fighters’ role is crucial, especially now that the continuous coup is active, led by the ultra-right fascists represented mainly by Leopoldo López, of the right-wing Popular Will Party (Voluntad Popular), who is now imprisoned for his leading role in the coup violence, and María Corina Machado from the also right-wing Súmate. She was removed from her post as congressmember for accepting an official position in the government of Panamá with the intention of attacking Venezuela at the Organization of American States.

The criminal nature of ‘guarimbas’

This coup effort, with its “guarimbas” (roadblocks) that started last Feb. 12, that has now logged 18,000 violent recorded acts, has already caused the death of about 40 people. Most victims were supporters of the revolutionary process, including nine National Guards.

The international capitalist press falsely presents the guarimbas as “peaceful protests” by students. But these actions have included, for example, the complete burning down of the National University of the Armed Forces, of a preschool where the children were evacuated just before they would have been burned alive, and of a truck carrying food.

People have been killed at night as they drove on their motorcycles through unseen barbed wire stretched between poles. Snipers have killed men and women trying to remove the trees, trash and other objects that compose the guarimbas. Those at the roadblocks completely obstruct the passage of all vehicles, and people can pass through only if on foot.

Although these violent outbreaks are few in number and only in affluent neighborhoods, they are still sowing terror. In an attempt to end this violence, the government has been launching an extensive pacification campaign, which includes peace conferences and dialogue with the political opposition to the revolutionary process.

Two visions for the country’s future face off

One of the efforts at a peace talk with the opposition was held April 10. It was the first time that the political opposition had met with the government in Miraflores. Previously, there had been a conference with the business sector and with mayors and governors.

Supported by foreign ministers of UNASUR [the Union of South American Nations] and a representative of the Vatican, the meeting on April 10 was more like a debate, a confrontation, where the vision of the right was represented by the Table of Democratic Unity (MUD), in opposition to the pro-socialist vision raised by the government. The extreme right and fascist forces that instigate the guarimbas did not attend, showing clearly the intense division within the rightist forces.

Besides the members of the MUD and the government, there was representation by the Patriotic Pole, the Peace Conference, the Communist Party of Venezuela and the Revolutionary Tupamaros Movement, among others.

The purpose of this long debate (ending at 2 a.m.) in the final words of President Maduro, was to open the attempt to establish a constructive dialogue to work at solving the fundamental problems of the country and to consolidate a vision of coexistence and tolerance in peace for all Venezuela. He had previously announced that it would not be a negotiation to make pacts with the right wing.

The future of Venezuela, however, the deepening of the revolution towards the socialist path, will depend mainly on the balance of forces that should tip toward the people, a people mobilized to defend and advance the revolution.