In their essay yesterday, when Quico Toro and Pedro Rosas pondered the future of the Civilian-Military alliance in relation to the coming disaster known as the Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (ANC), they rightly wondered whether the emergence of a parallel meta-sovereign would cause enough friction to make the regime implode.

After all, there is no Military sector in the ANC, the former military officers who are actual candidates are too ingrained in the Socialist Party (PSUV) and, despite their influence, the military has remained somewhat independent from full-on meddling by the Party. Ultimately, they argue, the unión cívico-militar as it appeared in Chávez mind is under unprecedented strain.

I agree with that: friction is likely. Not because the military is not inside the ANC, but because it is above it. After all, the only power in Venezuela that can uphold whether the ANC proceeds or not is the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana. Could the ANC dare to alter the very body that guarantees its existence?

In that sense, the unión cívico-militar has proven even more successful than Chávez dared to imagine.

Quico and Pedro pose a number of interesting points, regarding the balance of power between the different parts of the ruling coalition. There are of course issues with the sprawling vested interests that the military holds dear, and that these might be affected by some of the most “out-there” proposals. Despite all of this, I think “Cívico-Militar” government is here to stay, not just as a feature of Chavismo, but even beyond it.

The only power in Venezuela that can uphold whether the ANC proceeds or not is the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana.

The roots of the “citizen-in-arms” idea goes back, way back to Bolívar, Páez, Falcón and Zamora. But for analytical purposes let’s stick to governments ruling after the modernization of the Armed Forces and the creation of the professional officer class. So, let’s talk about the post-Gómez era: 1935 to this day.

Over these 82 years, there have merely been 40 with clear civilian dominance (and even that is debatable, given the veto power held by the military in foreign affairs and issues relating to the Armed Forces). Humbly, I propose the following timeline (which may harbor a number of oversimplifications):

  • 1936-1945 Postgomecismo (two former ministers of War served as back-to-back presidents): Military ascendancy
  • 1945-1948 Trienio Adeco (mid-ranking officers put a revolutionary party in power): Military collaboration with a civilian government
  • 1948-1957 Década Militar: Need I say more?
  • 1958 Junta de Gobierno (the Armed Forces topple Pérez Jiménez for muddying up their power, they are reeled in): Military action and hibernation.
  • 1959-1998 Puntofijo Party Rule (the Armed forces hold veto power, and use it): Military hibernation, with not so tame or infrequent growls.
  • 1999-2017 Chavismo (a former Army officer leads the government until he dies, purging the Military time and again; then the Military uphold his successor): Military ascendancy and increasing symbiosis with ruling party.

So, the last Century has seen the military in government more often than not, and this cannot escape the mind of anyone vying for power in Venezuela. Alberto Müller Rojas, the brilliant military mandarin that bridged both recent eras, once said that as a youngster he wanted to be President, and that is why he enrolled in the Army. He also said that the Puntofijo era dominated the military brass by co-opting officers through corruption and high-level clientelism; that the party leaders despised the Armed Forces, but ultimately feared them even more. Some loyalty was expected, but civilian rule was always tense.

The hope on the Left (where Müller Rojas spent most of his public life) was to do what Acción Democrática had succeeded in doing in 1945, and avoiding what it had failed to avoid in 1948: get into power through military might and then reshape the Armed Forces as an ideological and revolutionary force that wouldn’t betray them.

That couldn’t happen in the sixties, though if the Carupanazo and Porteñazo are any indication, it came damn close. The mistrust between the old military brass and the Puntofijo parties gave them an opening, when anti-communist sentiment had subsided enough to be filled with disdain for old political hands: the fringe left-wing that held onto the idea of forcibly toppling bourgeois democracy, promoted conspiracies and sects, one of which was the MBR-200. They tried their luck in 1992, and won on the same platform in 1998.

From the very beginning, Chávez tried to both dissuade the old military brass from betraying him by allowing them space for corruption and leverage (Plan Bolívar 2000, for example), while disarming political interference with rank promotions (this happened first in 1999, and it grew worse every year since), purging any discontented officer thereof (the most glaring examples of this was the military crisis of 2002-2003, and the Baduel purge of 2007).

Alberto Müller Rojas, the brilliant military mandarin that bridged both recent eras, once said that as a youngster he wanted to be President, and that is why he enrolled in the Army.

The military, in Chavista doctrine, is the most genuine and virtuous representation of the people. In Marxist-Leninist doctrine, they are tools of the vanguard party. Madurismo, progeny of both, has strengthened this: the military holds more power and clout since before the death of Hugo Chávez; the military is beyond reproach, embodying the revolution even more succinctly than the party. This makes them safe. This is why they do not need a Constituyente Militar, nor would Maduro broker it.

Chavista and Socialist ideology puts them at the top and give them a legitimacy that no other political ideology besides full-on militarism have provided. The military are, in that sense, the only citizens that matter in the Venezuelan People’s Republic. Cívico-militar does not mean what we think, and it still gives the Armed forces ample room to make Maduro or his successor a puppet.

It is, of course, a dangerous game. What if the military choose to rule without the party? Why do they keep the PSUV at arm’s length? Because despite all ideological mores, interests do play a role. We cannot underestimate that, but I must disabuse anyone who thinks that if the chickens come home to roost, they will let the hens take control of the henhouse this time.

24 COMMENTS

  1. “Why do they keep the PSUV at arm’s length?” the author wonders.

    But do they? They have not.

    The military has been supporting the PSUV since before Maduro. Had it not been because of the military’s repression Maduro would be gone by now. The only thing missing is for the generals to wear an arm band with a PSUV logo!

    Where does this idea come from? Please tell me.

  2. “The military, in Chavista doctrine, is the most genuine and virtuous representation of the people.”

    As they are utterly corruptible and only superficially committed to democratic ideals and values, it’s hard to disagree they aren’t a genuine representation.

  3. Bien jodidos estamos entonces que en menos de tres generaciones pasamos del nivel de Medina Angarita y Lopez contreras a el arrabal de Cabello, Padrino et alias.

    IMO, this is a great piece Guillermo. I concur with looking at the issues fro a broader perspective, that the limited 40 year civil hiatus may provide.

    Now, in all your piece you do not mention or hint at all the foreign influence (or control) this military corpus is facing now. I would like to ask for a commentary on your vies on the cuban (and Chinese, and Russian, and other) connection.

    Kudos.

    ( in looking up Presidents of Venezuela, notices a few instances of Guillermo Tell Villegas… Your family?)

    • Thank you.

      Both presidents Villegas are not relatives of mine. “Guillermo Tell” was a common “liberal” name in the XIXth Century. It came from that.

  4. and what the actual fuck has the military done for Venezuela in the last 80 years? Protect us against foreign invaders and interests their supposed purpose hahahaha.

    • with the exception of Perez Jimenez who may have actually attempted to build a nation, it’s all being partying hard with venezuelan resources and unrest suppression

  5. I agree with your appreciation wholeheartedly. With the erosion of the PSUV’s popularity and its effectiveness as a political movement the military is now the locus of Chavismo.

    The transformation of a FAN to a FAN firstly BOLIVARIANA is complete. The fact that the government is still in power after all that has happened demonstrates it.

    But there are a few things that this Chavismo/military has to fear:

    1)-The FANB needs some figment of law and reason to hide behind. In talking to a Chavista officer I was amazed that he would firmly defend his criminal position by arguing outlandish chavista reasons. I also notice that many pobre diablos from Aporrea do the same thing. But even crazy reason are running in short supply. One can understand this as a feckless attempt to avoid future prosecution for their actions as the Nazis in Nuremberg.

    2)-However Chavistas that they may be there are practical aspects that they cannot escape. Looking at dolartoday the greenback is going to hit $9000, a sure symptom of hyperinflation. Additionally, the economic threats by the US would quickly cease up the Venezuelan economy. So they may be totally bad ass chavistas but they still need an economy and money to run it.

    3)-By observing Luisa Ortega or Nicmer Evans, one sees that there is a Chavismo that sees itself as democratic, could such a division also exist in the military?

  6. Many years ago I wrote a post about this Venezuelan obsession with military gorillas and I sort of put it on maps.

    There is absolutely no country on Earth with as many administrative divisions called after military honchos: not only states but about a third of all the municipios.

    The Bolivar cult, started by Bolivar himself and revived around 1842 when Páez of all people needed some unifying force due to low coffee prices, could flourish in a country that was basically living in the Middle Ages.

    How can we start reducing the military’s importance in Venezuela without alienating most of them?

    Only when we can let people dream they can be something in Venezuela without being a military, a terrateniente or a politician.

  7. “The military, in Chavista doctrine, is the most genuine and virtuous representation of the people. In Marxist-Leninist doctrine, they are tools of the vanguard party.”

    In socialist “philosophy”, individuals who build and hire are the enemy, the individual who does not submit to being bound to the Grand Faggot is the enemy, independent thought is the enemy, and all must be brought down and subjugated by armed force – or exterminated. The entire “socialist” “thing” is predicated on “the enemy”, always the enemy, always the successful individual who must be attacked and destroyed. Envy, greed, hatred, and subjugation of the enemy.

  8. If Chavez could turn the armed forces on his side I see no reason why the next Democratic government can do the same, specially after all that has happened and more importantly the deep popular support inside and abroad to the opposition/resistencia.

    By the way, this Civic-Military alliance is not unique to Venezuela. Almost every country has some symbiotic cohabitation Civic-Military, it has to.

    The trickest part in this process will be the shift in power, the easiest and most obvious fix is Maduro leaving, but thats not the end of the story, who is going to kick out the corrupted Armed Forces if not with a coup?.
    Also there is a chance that we could become another Egypt after the coup instead of the free and democratic country that we were aiming for.
    This is why I see an intervention from the US as one of the best solutions to this problem.
    Yet I’am not holding my breath for that to happen given the turbid and dysfunctional political environment in the US.
    I believe sanctions no matter how harsh won’t be enough.
    Lets remember that this is in fact a regional conflict since Castro is fighting for his survival in this one too.

  9. Until General Gomez created a modern army which could defeat any civilian armed rebellion Venezuela had no true professional army , he created one while keeping many of the old veterans of past civil wars in command , officers trained professionally formed a clique , they all came from the same background (middle class tachirences) spoke the same language, shared the same jokes , met with each other frequently ,and developed the notion that they were being badly treated by a govt that did not value military professionals , they were offended by their low salaries and by having ignorant old geezeers as their bosses, because they formed a closed clique they could plot together to topple the govt without too much difficulty, one thing that was also engraved in their mind was that to be a top govt official you had to be able to handle yourself politically , that politics, was unsavory and that they would rather have professional politicians handle things they had no experience in …..so they sought AD’s support and set up a govt which was controlled by AD partisans …………even if there were some officers who acted as part of the junta and who in time became more politically minded.

    These professionally trained army officers numbered some 200 to 250 people, they stuck together and had leaders whom they respected and trusted because they were recognized to be outstanding professional officers ( MPJ was Alferez Mayor of his Military School course and had study in a very reputed War Staff College and was known as a very competent officer) ……they were innocent of all politics .

    The AD of the late 40’s and the army officers of that time were very different from the politicians and todays army is a joke of an army compared to what it used to be in terms of cohesiveness and professionalism . …………

    After MPJ turned coats on his army supporters after the Romulo Fernandez attempted coup against MPJ in january 58 leaving himself bereft of any army support , MPJ was toppled and the democratic regimes that followed gutted that army and created one which was carefully controlled by cunning pols who gave them good living conditions and created divisions inside the army so that never again would they be able to form an united clique….

    This army hated politics but knew the advantages of cultivating the right political friends to advance their careers …..there was for most of them no thought of overthrowing the govt , they were well treated bureaucrats …….with little appetite for involving themselves in coup d etat adventures.

    What Chavez did when he took over in 99 was to systematically destroy the unity of that arm and its capacity of this army to harbour any group capable of overthrowing him, The army was not only politized it was corrupted and made into a chaotic archipielago of factions with a core of army officers whose loyalty he bought and made his……

    Think of the army as made up mostly of fragmented groups behind the fachade with a small nasty group of unconditionals willing to do the hard job of repressing the regimes opponents with savage hand….!!

    Seeing the army of yesterday as equal to the army of today and as united and capable of acting uniformly in protection of its interests is perhaps too generous to them……

  10. I think they are split in three: Hard Maduristas / Hard MUD / Independents (or soft chavistas/ soft opposition) . It is just a matter of “opportunity” before one Major, Capitan or Colonel realizes that the moment is prime for a take over.

    The only thing that unites the country is the hatred against Maduro, once that is out we go back to three way split being the ni-ni the biggest group. Who’s not going to tell that the military may appeal to a lot of people with the promise of restitution of order. At the end of the day, the entire civil structure has fallen down and there still a level of admiration (and even expectations) for the military to put “things in order”.

    I mean, any civil in office will face severe governance issues past July 30th being PSUV or MUD. So, why bother?. The military will take the government and someone will become a tropical Gadhafi for a little while. It is just a matter of whom jumps first and negotiates with the next stronger group…

    …and guess what, the more ultra right that tropical Gadhafi the better for him as Trump would probably nod, as long as Venezuela is out of the Cubans, Russians and Chinese. With Venezuela out, next Nicaragua.

    Then, they can manage to put a puppet civilian government that will keep them in power behind the façade of democracy.

    • yes, or maybe this: “Then, they can manage to put a puppet civilian government that will keep them in power behind the façade of democracy.” is already true so they would remove the facade to use maduro as a scapegoat

  11. it all depends of what you define as ‘the military’ obviously when you think of chavismo you think in the generals, they are pretty much running the shows and ministeries, they are uña y mugre with the regime, but what about the lower ranks, are they happy with their CLAPs? are they brain washed? are they commited with ‘the process’? will they follow criminal orders?

  12. Messr. Aveledo, you very rightly put the lie to the previous CC post about the “Breakdown Of The Civico-Militar Power Sharing”. As I mentioned in that post, and referred wrongly to your astute observation as being Olivier’s, the “Civico-Militar” way, as you put it, has traditionally been the Venezuelan way, even tacitly during the 40 years of Punto Fijismo. It took just 30 years or so of democracy for the military, led by Chavez, to try to take complete control, and they almost succeeded, with 400 men, of which only 100, estimated by CP, were Chavez MBR, the other 300 led by non-MBR-affiliated military thirsting for power (among whom was Def. Min. OA, who delivered CAP from the airport to Miraflores for slaughter, then disappeared, but reappeared many hours later when the Caracas part of the coup had failed–OA kept his job afterwards, Caldera’s Chiripero election was fixed against the Gordito, so Chavez/conspirators could be pardoned, showing how weak civilian control of the Govt. had become, and the rest is tragi-history). What now? The top military have the guns, CAMIMPEG, food/medicine imports-distribution, border contraband, preferential $, probably as much income from narcotics safe-conduct as Venezuela earns from oil yearly, Cuban spying control of the middle-lower military ranks–this, and going to jail for same upon losing power, means, in the immortal words of Ven. M.Rubio, “We’re fucked.” On the other hand, moderate/pragmatic Chavismo (and, their military), led visibly/notably by LOD, are smart enough to know that, if the ANC goes through/stays, international economic, and in the end armed, sanctions will be the end of Chavismo, so that, MAYBE, only MAYBE, the ANC will be aborted. The ANC, if installed, will NOT mean the end of current fat cat/military power, since they will continue to control the purse-strings/majority voting power–this is not a Robespierre’s off with their heads revolution, except for perhaps some hapless non-enchufado small business and private property owners subject to Consejo Comunal confiscation. But, it is a Tropical Mierda arroz con mango mess, characterized by anarchy, social unrest, blood-letting, possibly civil war, hunger, worse general deprivation, and, if allowed to run for long, will result in even more-intolerable human rights abuses, and destabilization of neighboring/other SA.countries via massive Venezuelan emigration over green borders and Cuban-Communist subversion.

  13. At the risk of repeating myself, the military leadership wll not risk jail just because Cuba asks them to. They will not risk jail just because Maduro asks them to. They will not risk jail because the opposition asks them to. In summary, they will not risk jail. Period. This is their highest priority, and it trumps any ideological drivers out there.

    In wanting to stay out of jail, they share common cause with the civilian leadership. They can depose Maduro any time they wish to replace him with a new figurehead, and will do so if threatened. I believe in any event that the military has been pulling Maduro’s strings since December 2015.

    The numerous purges together with the ubiquitous presence of Cuban “political officers”, aka informants, inside the armed forces has effectively eliminated the possibility of any organised dissent or uprising of the decent and the honourable. We will wait an eternity for the FANB to step in voluntarily in order to restore democratic order and freedoms, and even longer for the GN. It is just not going to happen. Nor will the military leadership permit the civilian players to head in a direction where it (the military leadership) becomes exposed to investigation for past crimes. It will not allow itself to be served up as a sacrificial lamb.

    Realpolitik therefore says that there are only two possible routes to democracy in the short term.
    (1) the military leadership – or at least a critical mass of the leadership – secures assurances of amnesty and actively supports the establishment of an independent judiciary and free elections under this proviso.
    (2) the rank and file prove to be too squeamish to use tanks and guns against a general, widespread uprising of the civilian population, and the miltary leadership is forcibly taken down.

    If neither of these events occur, then welcome to North Korea with salsa, comrade.

  14. Thanks for the long range historical view which brings the present into sharper focus, even if paradoxically still leaves much unanswered. How for example does the role of the military compare to neighbouring Colombia?

  15. Absolutely, but, tragically, SA history in one country tends to repeat itself later in another–30 yrs. from now, it is possible/likely that the Colombian military, as happened with the Venezuelan military, will be heavily infiltrated by now-pacified/legalized/cash-heavy FARC-sponsored Leftist elements, which is another reason why a Castro-Cuban Communist government, with ample narcotics funding, cannot be allowed to stand in Venezuela.

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