Teruggi is an Argentine journalist living in Caracas. This article appeared June 1 in pagina12. Translated by Michael Otto.
June 1 — A defensive wall is surrounding Caracas. Over 10 days, some 1,700 men and women have received defense training. The goal is to reach 100,000 by October, with training centers in 22 parishes [neighborhoods] to cover the 117 territorial hubs in the capital and assure that the city becomes a swamp that can swallow up any attempted coups.
The first training site is located south of the city in Macarao. It was in Macarao where the right wing burned the headquarters of a communal organization on April 30, while cameras were all focused on Juan Guaidó, Leopoldo López and the handful of members of the military in their failed coup. Leaders of social movements and Chavista grassroots organizations, including people of every age group, took part in this training day.
This is the first time they have put their hands on a rifle or learned techniques for territorial reconnaissance. No one forced them to come; they are ordinary people from organized neighborhoods. They are living the day-to-day struggle that has been transformed into a battle for gas, transportation and controlled prices.
The training has various elements: learning how to make maps of the neighborhood, mobilizing with weapons, doing physical exercises, and learning about first aid, evacuation and self-defense. The instructors are members of the Bolivarian Militia, the body made up of more than 2.5 million women and men, the backbone of the so-called Doctrine of Comprehensive Defense of the Nation.
The leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are in the vanguard of the political leadership of the training plan.
“Caracas is a city of peace, a city of life, and we are going to defend it with the organization of our people, the civil-military union, and with the preparation and knowledge that we are developing in this effort of comprehensive training,” explains Erika Farías. She is the mayor of the Municipality of the Liberator of Caracas and a member of the leadership of the PSUV and the Francisco de Miranda Front.
Unified defense plan involves masses
The training exercises include several organizations: the PSUV, the allied parties [Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the Free Homeland Party (PPL)], the social and communal movements and the members of the Constituent National Assembly.
The exercises have three objectives. First, organization of defense through the design and execution of a plan in a unified manner among the different participants, in order to form a nucleus in each territory. Second, to carry out the exercises as such. Third, the productive effort, where the objective is that each of the 22 parishes will have a center for training and food production.
Colonel Boris Iván Berroterán de Jesús, commander of the Area of Comprehensive Defense 414 Caricuao, explains: “All Venezuelans have co-responsibility in the defense of the homeland, as it is written in article 326 of the Constitution. It is not only a question of arms. We are going to create a very important logistical chain. There must be eight or nine people in the rear for each combatant who is trained here; the instruction must be continuous; and all components must be ready for the comprehensive defense in each territory.”
The training is intended to respond to two principal possible scenarios of conflict.
The first is well-known; it concerns the actions that the right wing carried out in 2013, 2014, 2017 and at the beginning of this year. These consisted of attacks on PSUV and commune offices, health and child care centers, and on Chavista leaders, as well as provocative night actions and attempts to create chaos in working-class areas. The right wing has been infiltrating and hiring armed groups for several years in order to challenge daily life in the working-class neighborhoods and to deploy in times of attack.
The second scenario involves one that the government has condemned: the possibility that the right wing may attempt to use mercenary forces composed of various agents, such as paramilitaries, criminal gangs and private contractors. In that situation, Caracas’ regions — whose overpopulated hills look like labyrinths whose paths are stairs and balconies — could be a battleground for the irregular forces. The organized people must be prepared to spot enemy movements and know how to act to stop them.
What is to come: dialogue or combat?
The training plan in Caracas advances hand-in-hand with the central commitment Chavismo has made since January: to carry out dialogue with the opposition in order to reach an agreement. The first attempts at dialogue occurred secretly for months. During the past two weeks, talks in Oslo, Norway’s capital, have been public.
Chavismo has demonstrated unity around the search for dialogue and has affirmed that it will insist on reaching an agreement. The opposition, on the other hand, has been divided on the matter. One sector is involved in the attempt at dialogue, like the representatives of Juan Guaidó acting under U.S. orders and joined by the Un Nuevo Tiempo [A New Time] party.
But another sector has insisted there is no longer anything to talk about or negotiate. That group clings to the argument that they can only get rid of Chavismo through an act of international force. To this end, for example, they work publicly on the fictional [goal of] reinserting Venezuela into the Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance via the National Assembly.
The U.S. government, for its part, publicly maintains that any solution depends on the departure of [President] Nicolás Maduro, and has returned to supporting Guaidó through Vice President Mike Pence. The question that has been around since the beginning of Guaidó’s self-proclamation is how far is the United States willing to go?
While those are the public debates, what is being prepared behind closed doors? The right wing, following the U.S. plan — and depending on its financing — has already carried out violent actions during the days surrounding Guaidó’s self-proclamation [as president] at the end of January. The rightists attempted to forcefully enter from Colombia on Feb. 23, unleashed attacks on the electric power grid, and attempted a political-military coup at dawn on April 30.
What if they aren’t yet willing to agree on a process in Oslo that does not concede Maduro’s exit? Chavismo has to prepare for all possible scenarios. Caracas is the epicenter of the Bolivarian Revolution’s power that the coup forces seek to overthrow. So Chavismo is consequently preparing on the front lines for any further attacks around and within the city.