A Prussian-Inspired Institution Gave Venezuela a Professional Army

On July 5th, 1910, Venezuela’s Military Academy was created to make a nation-building army out of the force that finally stabilized the country.

Photo: Daniel Unimet retrieved

Although President Cipriano Castro had decreed the creation of the Military Academy in 1903, it actually started its activities on July 5th, 1910, when Juan Vicente Gómez had already removed Castro as President, and the construction of La Planicie garrison was completed.

This building, designed by architect Alejandro Chataing, was the headquarters of the Military Academy between 1910 and 1949, then it became the Defense Ministry (1941-1981), the Historical Military Museum, and now it’s used to house the remains of the late Hugo Chávez.

The Military Academy shows a continuity between Castro and Gómez: the former had the political will to create it and order the building’s construction, and the latter started using it. For that, Gómez appointed Chilean Colonel Samuel Mac Gill, who was the Venezuelan consul in Panama, as instructor of the General Inspectorate. Mac Gill came from organizing military institutions in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Honduras, and he’d trained in the Chilean Army, the most professional in Latin America, so the path he chose for the Venezuelan Military Academy was Prussian, just like the one at his homeland.

But if the Army had Prussian inspiration, the Navy was inspired by Great Britain and the Aviation by the United States, while the National Guard, created by López Contreras, was inspired by the Spanish Civil Guard.

Just two years later (1912), when a military parade was held in El Paraíso hippodrome, the orderly ranks and the new supplies astonished the population. The Army had in fact started its process of professionalization, leaving behind the improvised groups of undisciplined fighters and adopting the severe rigor of organized and silent soldiers.

The path of the Venezuelan Army came to solidify what had already started as a political project: the creation of the Armed Forces as a national institution, the essence of the Tachira-born military hegemony which earned its institutional prestige after the end of the regional landowners phenomenon of the 19th century. This national army contributed to the consolidation of one of the essential factors of the modern state: territorial control through monopoly of firepower and violence.