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Hugo Chavez and the Venezuela - Cuba Alliance: Preparing for War against the People

By John Sweeney

Miami – October 26 – President Hugo Chávez says he wants good bilateral relations with the United States and mutual respect between Caracas and Washington , D.C. Chávez also claims that he doesn’t want to engage in any wars with anyone, and says his greatest dream is that all of the world’s countries and cultures should eradicate poverty and co-exist peacefully. Chávez made these remarks during October in various speeches and interviews. At the same time, however, Chávez continued to loudly beat the rhetorical drums of war in Venezuela and internationally during October.

During his weekly “Alo Presidente” program the first Sunday in October, however, Chávez addressed private landowners that are organizing themselves to legally and peacefully resist the Bolivarian revolution’s illegal expropriations of their property in these threatening terms: “We don’t believe in threats, and we won’t be threatened. If you take that road, be aware of the consequences, because we will act with the greatest assertiveness and we won’t allow the country to be set ablaze. The permissive Chávez of 2000 is gone. I will not allow it.”

Chávez did not explicitly say what measures he would take against landowners that try to resist his will democratically. In recent months, however, all of the property expropriations and government-supported invasions of privately-owned agricultural estates and industrial facilities have been supported at gunpoint by Venezuelan army and National Guard troops.

President Chávez beat the war drums some more in an interview Oct. 19 in Paris with BBC’s Robin Lustig. In that interview, Chávez repeated his lengthy litany of accusations against the U.S. government. Chávez said he has “intelligence” that proves the U.S. plans to invade Venezuela to seize control of its petroleum and natural gas resources. Chávez also charged again, as he has hundreds of times in the past 42 months since April 11, 2002 , that he was the victim of “a coup attempt that was prepared by the U.S.” Chávez also repeated his charge that the “imperialist terrorist government” of President George W. Bush “protects terrorism.” However, Chávez added, “I wish our political differences could be toned down.”

Judging as much by his actions as his words, the world Chávez lives in is one of betrayal, conspiracy, conflict and bloodshed. He claims the U.S. government is plotting to assassinate him, that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sabotaged PDVSA’s production operations, and that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducts espionage activities in Venezuela . In the past year, Chávez also has threatened several times to suspend oil exports to the U.S. , and has vowed that any U.S. military invasion of Venezuela would trigger “a 100 years war” in Latin America. Still, these are just words.

However, Chávez also has taken some explicit steps to prepare Venezuela – or, more accurately, his presidency and revolution – for both internal and external armed conflict.

For example, Chávez acquired 100,000 AK-103 and AK-104 assault rifles from Russia, and reportedly is negotiating the purchase of another 150,000 AK assault rifles from the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK). Chávez also is buying a new fleet of Russian transport and attack helicopters, and he wants to buy Mig-29 Fulcrum and Sukhoi Flanker advanced fighters from Russia . Further, the Chávez government is seeking to buy advanced Tucano turboprop fighter/bombers from Brazil, and missile patrol boats and military cargo aircraft from Spain. The navy is shopping for two diesel/electric submarines.

The Chávez government also has met quietly with DPRK officials to discuss the possible purchase of medium-range missile technology, and is seeking cooperation from Argentina, Brazil and Iran to develop a Venezuelan nuclear power capability for “peaceful purposes” which the government claims is related to extracting and upgrading heavy crude from the Orinoco Tar Belt.

A new national security doctrine

During four decades of pre-Chávez democracy, Venezuela ’s national security doctrine and war gaming in the armed forces (FAN) were based on four conflict scenarios, three of which were territorial conflicts with neighboring countries. These external conflict scenarios included (1) a war with Guyana over the Essequibo region, (2) a war with Brazil over territorial control in Venezuela’s Bolívar and Amazonas states, and (3) a war with Colombia over the Gulf of Venezuela. The fourth conflict scenario was internal and based on the assumption that the core internal threat was an insurgency/civil war sparked by the radical left with clandestine Cuban government support. However, the Chávez government has completely discarded the FAN’s longtime doctrinal pillars and core conflict scenarios.

Since the start of 2005, Chávez has laid the strategic and legal foundations of a new national security doctrine and an expanded military capability that is based on the core assumption that Venezuela ’s greatest enemy is the United States. Chávez has defined both a new national doctrine and a national development mandate for the FAN. The new Organic Law of the Armed Forces (LOFAN) approved in September 2005 creates a civilian military reserve that could total up to 2.6 million volunteers in a few years.

Chávez’s national security doctrine to oppose the anticipated U.S. military invasion is an “asymmetrical war” in which a new Territorial Guard consisting of hundreds of thousands of active duty military personnel and civilian military reservists that would operate as irregular guerrilla forces against conventional U.S. forces in a conflict without any rules of engagement. Senior chavista generals have stated publicly that Chávez’s “no rules war” would involve Bolivarian militants operating like radical Islamic militants in Iraq where car bombs and ambushes in urban areas decimate civilians on a daily basis.

Cuba also is an important political, strategic and tactical pillar of the Bolivarian revolution’s national security doctrine. In fact, Chávez’s new national security doctrine is a copy of Cuba’s security doctrine. Chávez’s civilian military reserve is organized along nearly identical lines as the Castro government’s civilian militia. Chávez has also created elite paramilitary groups inside his government that operate independently from the FAN, the political police (DISIP) and other security entities, the same way that Castro has set up paramilitary security forces at the Cuban Interior Ministry that operate independently from Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Three conflict scenarios

Venezuela’s new national security doctrine envisions three basic conflict scenarios: (1) a U.S. military invasion, (2) a conflict with Colombia, and (3) an internal military revolt or armed insurgency against the Chávez government. In all three scenarios, the mutual defense pact agreed to by Chávez and Castro requires Cuba to come to Venezuela’s aid.

The U.S. invasion scenario is based on the strategic premise that Washington, D.C. wants to seize control of Venezuela ’s oil and gas reserves.

A second conflict scenario juggled by the Bolivarian revolution is a military incident with Colombia in which the U.S. would play a behind-the-scenes role encouraging and supporting Colombia. This scenario replicates strategically the Cold War-by-proxy that raged in Central America during the 1980s between the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Cuba alliance.

A conflict between Venezuela and Colombia could involve both conventional military forces and unconventional forces like special operations troops or irregular armed groups. Retired Venezuelan Admiral Ivan Carratú Molina said in Bogotá recently that Chávez and Castro want to provoke a military incident with Colombia to further destabilize U.S. strategic interests in Latin America. Chávez is sympathetic to Colombia ’s Marxist militant groups. Militant groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL) operate inside Venezuelan territory mainly in states that share borders with Colombia. General Nestor González González, a leader of the military mutiny against Chávez in April 2002, recently charged, from wherever he is hiding, that the FARC have 32 permanent camps inside Venezuelan territory.

The Colombian government is strengthening security on its side of the border, and plans to deploy 20,000 troops in coming months to northwest Colombia along the border with Panama. The Uribe government is also creating new brigade-strength units that are being deployed in northeast Colombia along the border with Venezuela. These expanding Colombian troop deployments will push FARC and ELN units even deeper into Venezuelan territory, and Colombian troops likely will pursue the rebels. In fact, there have been some unconfirmed reports that Colombian troops recently have deployed into Venezuela several times on precision attacks against FARC camps.

A third conflict scenario managed by the Bolivarian revolution’s military strategists is endogenous. Conflict erupts as a result of an internal disruption such as a military coup attempt or a civilian insurgency against the Bolivarian revolution. This is the scenario that Chávez always downplays as he focuses on repeatedly accusing the U.S. government of planning to kill him and invade Venezuela. However, an internal conflict is the main scenario that the FAN and civilian military reserves are organized and deployed to repulse.

This raises several questions.

How viable are any of these scenarios? Do the FAN and FAR have the weapons, transport and command-and-control capabilities to carry out their assigned missions under any of these conflict scenarios? What, if any, would be the role of conventional and unconventional forces? What are the current readiness levels of the FAN, FAR and Colombian armed forces? How broad, in fact, is the popular support for the revolution that forms an explicit and vital component of the Chávez government’s “asymmetrical war” plan and the Castro government’s “war of all the people” plan? How strong, really, are loyalties to the Bolivarian and Cuban revolutions within the FAN and the FAR? Beyond the rhetoric of conflict that emanates from Chávez and Castro, is there real willingness among the Venezuelan and Cuban “peoples” to actually fight to defend the Bolivarian and Fidelista revolutions? One or two of these questions can be answered with reasonable factual accuracy.

The responses to questions relating to depth of popular support and willingness to fight can only be speculative at best. That said, however, there are enough hardcore committed chavistas to ensure that if an asymmetrical conflict ever does erupt in Venezuela – whether from an external invasion or internal revolt – the bloodshed and destruction could be substantial. President Chávez is not bluffing when he threatens to respond massively and immediately against anyone who threatens his hold on power. The next time a conflict erupts in Venezuela like it did in April 2002, Chávez is determined that he will not be caught off guard or betrayed again by his generals.

The LOFAN and National Security

The new LOFAN, with 137 articles, essentially adopts the Cuban model of military organization, command and control. The Chávez government claims the new LOFAN vaults the FAN into the 21st century. The truth, however, is that the LOFAN constitutes the military pillar of what, for lack of a better descriptive word, can be called Cubazuela.

The new Organic Law of the National Armed Forces (LOFAN), approved in September by the National Assembly, establishes the legal, organizational and command and control structures of Venezuela ’s new national security doctrine adopted in July 2005. Senior government and military officials claim the LOFAN contains a mix concepts adapted from the United States, Cuba , and other European and Latin American countries. However, this claim is utter nonsense. The LOFAN is mainly based on the Cuban military model.

The LOFAN legally enshrines three core missions for the Bolivarian FAN. First, protect the president, his family and his closest associates at all times. Second, maintain internal order against endogenous threats to the president. Third, defend Venezuela against external threats. Although Chávez routinely rants about the need to strengthen the country’s FAN to resist a military invasion by the United States, the new LOFAN explicitly defines the Bolivarian FAN’s primary mission as defending the stability of the Chávez regime against internal threats and disruptions.

Article 3 of the LOFAN also explicitly empowers the Bolivarian FAN to “resist the occupation of the country by invading military forces (by all means) including actions of prevention against hostile forces that show that intention.” In effect, the LOFAN explicitly empowers the Bolivarian FAN to launch pre-emptive military invasions of other countries to prevent those countries from invading Venezuela. Under the new national security doctrine copied from Cuba by the Chávez government, the United States is Venezuela’s biggest external enemy, followed by Colombia. It’s doubtful that Chávez will airdrop paratroopers over Don Pan in downtown Miami or the OAS in Washington, D.C., but a conventional conflict scenario involving Colombia is not unthinkable – particularly as Chávez builds a Bolivarian military force that could easily top three million persons within the next five to ten years.

The new LOFAN also empowers the Bolivarian FAN to engage in joint actions with the armed forces of other countries – most obviously, Cuba – to defend the integrationist vision of Simon Bolívar. Clearly, this joint defense would entail Cuban military deployments on Venezuelan territory to defend Chávez.

There are several aspects of the LOFAN that merit comment. First, it establishes a highly vertical command and control system that places all power over the FAN, plus the new civilian reserve and territorial guard, in the hands of the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela . The command-and-control system for the civilian reserve and territorial guard are independent of the regular FAN’s command and control systems. In effect, this means the president exerts direct control over a civilian reserve that reportedly already totals over 300,000 volunteers and eventually will number about 2.6 million persons or 10% of the Venezuelan population. With all polls since 2001 showing that Chávez can count on a very hardcore political base of about 30% of the voter population, the Bolivarian revolution shouldn’t have any trouble exceeding its volunteer reserve recruitment targets. If the Bolivarian FAN should rebel against Chávez someday, the president could deploy his volunteer reserves to defend his regime against the FAN.

Second, the president has exclusive operational command of the Bolivarian FAN, the reserve and the territorial guard. The LOFAN defines “operational” as any activities involving the deployment of troops to carry out the main mission of protecting the president and preserving public order. In effect, next time Chávez orders that tanks be deployed to fire on civilians he wants to make sure no one will block or ignore his commands.

Third, the LOFAN establishes new military zones, as distinct from theaters of operation that would constitute the jurisdictional framework of the government’s plan to bind the Bolivarian FAN tightly to the government’s political imperatives. Each zone will have its own command and control organization, and one of the chief missions of these local commanders will be to maintain an updated strategic inventory of all strategic assets within their zones, meaning infrastructure like roads and communications, detailed lists of civilian and territorial guard units and their deployment, and productive assets (i.e. businesses).

Although Chávez has declared that the reserve would total 10% of the population, the LOFAN stipulates that all Venezuelans of military age not on active military duty are required to be members of the reserve. In times of conflict, such as a U.S. military invasion, the Bolivarian FAN and reserves would be combined into the Territorial Guard, which would be directly under the president’s command-and-control. Interestingly, the LOFAN doesn’t stipulate what steps should be followed if the commander-in-chief of the Bolivarian FAN, reserves and Territorial Guard, should become incapacitated in times of combat.

How Cuban is this new military organizational model enshrined in the LOFAN? Consider how the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (FAR) are organized. Since its inception, the FAR’s mission has been to protect and continue the revolution's accomplishments and preserve its status quo. It sees the United States as its principal external threat. To carry out this mission, Cuba's armed forces utilizes multiple doctrines of warfare – conventional, unconventional, and irregular warfare – that are implemented dependent on the existing situation.

There exists a conventional doctrine for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which is based on a "system of scientific criteria" of the principles of military science and operational as well as tactical art, and also that the Cuban forces must be prepared to wage conventional, unconventional and clandestine warfare.

A basis for such doctrines can be attributed to the influence and training by the former Soviet Union 's military. It can be said that FAR has adopted Soviet military doctrine and organizational principles, with some modifications to suit the smaller size and less sophisticated armament of the Cuban forces. This influence is exemplified by the use of an offensive doctrine as used in Cuba 's Third World campaigns. However, in an invasion of the island by U.S. forces, the FAR would implement a defensive doctrine that is its centerpiece of military doctrine.

The "War of All the People" doctrine (essentially an asymmetrical conflict doctrine), is a defensive strategy that tries to counter an overwhelming invasion force. This strategy envisions an armed populace willing to fight for the defense of the homeland. It was announced in 1980 with the creation of the Territorial Troop Militia (MTT) to increase the defense capability of the country. (The LOFAN establishes the Territorial Guard and civilian reserves for that purpose.) Fidel Castro stated that the MTT was necessitated in order to be "ready for combat operations not only using regular troops, but with the participation of the entire people." (Chávez has made identical remarks about the LOFAN and Venezuela ’s new national security doctrine).

Such a strategy of mass mobilization of the populace to assist conventional forces is not a new concept. During the French Revolution, citizens were used to fill the need for soldiers. In early 1793, 300,000 men were called for, to be conscripted if they would not volunteer, and in August the decree of the levé en masse, putting all fit males at the disposal of the Republic, was promulgated. A recent example of this strategy is seen during the Vietnam War where guerrilla fighters assisted the regular forces of the North Vietnamese. This assistance was not the sole reason but only part of the North Vietnamese success. External assistance from the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China was vital to the success of this strategy that Cuba presently lacks.

The models for the creation of the MTT and the doctrine of the War of the People were said to be the Soviet partisan movement during World War II in German occupied regions of the USSR and especially the Vietnamese concept of guerrilla struggle against superior forces of foreign occupiers, that is, France and the United States.

It remains to be seen if such a strategy would be successful in the event of an invasion from the United States. Without external support present, which was a factor to the success of North Vietnam , Venezuela ’s FAN and Territorial Guard would face a difficult struggle with superior number of forces and hardware.

Another factor to the implementation of this doctrine is support from the populace to wage such a campaign of attrition. Approximately half of the MTT force is made up of women, and women in Venezuela make up close to half of the new military reserve. Heavy human losses are a reality to the MTT support component for the FAR in Cuba, and would also be this way in Venezuela. The question then is how willing civilians might be to continue fighting in a scenario typified by large numbers of civilian casualties including women.

The Venezuelan FAN

The Venezuelan armed forces (FAN) have approximately 82,300 military personnel on active duty, including the National Guard and about 31,000 conscripts. The FAN has four service branches including the Army, Air Force, Navy, and National Guard. The new Organic Law of the National Armed Force (LOFAN) approved in September 2005 also created a new civilian military reserve and a territorial guard that would be deployed to battle external invaders under Chávez’s asymmetrical war strategy.

The president has said the volunteer civilian military reserve would total 10% of the population, or 2.6 million persons based on a total estimated population of 26 million. As of September 2005 over 300,000 volunteers had signed up to become military reservists, and the government expects to deploy more than 50,000 fully-trained reservists by the end of 2005. If current enlistment trends are any indication, at least half of the civilian military reserve will be women, and about 40% signed up mainly because they are unemployed and joining the reserve will provide them (theoretically) a steady monthly income.

The army’s total active manpower was relatively low as of September 2005, numbering about 34,000 troops on active duty including about 27,000 conscripts, according to international sources that track military readiness levels in all countries. However, Venezuelan army commander General Raúl Baduel remarked recently that the army has over 100,000 reservists. If this number was not a typographical error in the published news story, we think that Baduel likely was including the new civilian military reserve as part of the army. Legally and in terms of command/control, however, Baduel’s assertion was inaccurate. The new LOFAN stipulates that the reserve is an independent entity that is commanded directly by the president. In effect, Baduel cannot order reserve deployments. Only President Chávez can do that.

The army’s weapons are a mix of U.S., French, Brazilian, British, Italian and Israeli systems including battle tanks, light tanks, armored personnel carriers, fighter/interceptors, bombers, attack helicopters and other relatively sophisticated systems.

Since the start of 2005 the Chávez government has launched a program to acquire new advanced fighters and helicopters from several countries including Spain, Russia and Brazil. The FAV ordered 10 Casa 295 transport aircraft from Spain in March 2005, although it was reported in October that the U.S. government would block that sale because the aircraft’s avionics systems include U.S. technology. Chávez also plans to buy 24 Brazilian Super Tucano attack aircraft, and possibly as many as 50 Russian fighters including MiG-29 Fulcrums, and Su27 and Su-25 Flankers. The Chávez government also has ordered nine more Mi-17 Hip and one Mi-26 Halo helicopters, and reportedly also plans to buy an unknown number of Mi-24 Hi8nd assault helicopters.

FAN’s low operational readiness levels

Operational readiness levels within the FAN have been very poor throughout Chavez’s presidency. However, the FAN’s troubles did not begin when Chavez assumed the presidency in early 1999. The reality is that the FAN has been collapsing internally for close to 20 years, although the process did accelerate after Chavez’s failed coup in February 1992. Steep budget cuts are only one part of the problem. The FAN’s professionalism, ethics, command capabilities and concepts like honor and respect for constitutional rule of law have also collapsed. Political indoctrination has been introduced in all of the FAN’s education institutions.

The FAN’s reported personnel levels must be viewed with skepticism. There are reasons for thinking there are substantially fewer active-duty troops than the Defense Ministry claims, although the military reserve build-up is changing that situation. In 1990, for example, a 150-man company was commanded by one captain, two lieutenants, three sub-lieutenants and 10 sergeants. However, by the time Chavez became president in 1999 the same 150-man company was commanded by one captain, one sub-lieutenant and two sergeants. Moreover, in 1999 the average frontier battalion had 740 soldiers on paper, but actual troop strength was only 320 men commanded by one lieutenant colonel, 10 officers and 10 sergeants. These ratios have grown much worse since Chavez assumed the presidency and slashed defense spending by more than 40 percent in order to weaken the FAN’s ability to rise up against him.

According to a classified study done in mid-2001 by the army's military intelligence division, the army was already a hollow shell nearly four years ago. International defense standards for developing countries state that operational readiness levels for 11 key measures of military offense and defense capabilities should never drop below 70 percent. In the case of Venezuela, the army's capabilities in nine of 11 key measures of operational readiness were far below that 70 percent floor in 2001.

The situation today is far more critical sources say. For example, in terms of troop strength the Venezuelan army's operational readiness levels in 2001 were only 56.69 percent. In terms of food supplies, its readiness levels were only 40.25 percent, and weapons capabilities were only 23.22 percent. Several lower-ranking officers who have commanded army forces on the border during the past three years say their soldiers lacked uniforms, boots, helmets and body armor. They also say their troops were sent on combat patrols without sufficient ammunition to engage hostile forces such as the FARC, drug traffickers, paramilitary groups and other border bandits. The officers add that border unit commanders frequently had to rent privately owned commercial vehicles from local residents to transport patrol troops into high-risk border areas.

The classified study done in 2001 also rated the army's communications capabilities at only 20.90 percent, combat medevac capabilities at 44.48 percent, ground transport capabilities at 39.36 percent and armored vehicle capabilities (including tanks) at only 48.92 percent.

The classified army readiness study states that as of mid-2001, the army's armored operational readiness levels were only 48.92 percent overall. Of 528 armored vehicles, including main battle tanks such as the AMX-30 and light tanks such as the Dragoon 300 and the Scorpion, 336 were operational and 189 were inoperative. Individual weapons systems readiness levels on paper looked good for systems such as the AMX-30 battle tank (71.76 percent) and the Dragoon 300 and Scorpion tanks (97.03 percent and 97.62 percent, respectively). However, these averages do not tell the full story.

Army sources say retrofitting work done in recent years on the AMX-30 battle tanks by Metalurgica Van Dam, a Venezuelan metallurgical firm with no prior experience in modifying tanks, effectively destroyed the combat capabilities of these systems. A battle tank's turret must rotate 360-degrees, but Van Dam's "retrofitting" work made it impossible for the tank turrets to rotate more than 80 degrees in either direction.

This means in combat the tanks can be flanked and destroyed easily from the sides and rear by infantry units armed with light anti-tank rockets. Van Dam also cut through the armor of the AMX-30 tanks in such a way that the tanks were split completely in two. As a result, the armor of these tanks can now be penetrated by ammunition as light as a .30-caliber machine gun bullet, according to military sources. This means an infantry soldier armed with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) can penetrate the turrets of these tanks and kill the crews inside with as much ease as a hot knife slicing through butter if the rocket impacts directly on the welding seam.

In addition, the Dragoon 300 and Scorpion light tanks might show adequate operational readiness levels on paper, but they lack munitions. These tanks can be deployed, as some were deployed in April 2002 to protect Chavez in Miraflores from the nearly 900,000 unarmed protesters who marched to the presidential palace demanding his resignation. However, in an armed engagement these tanks would quickly run out of ammunition, which in effect would make them useless.

The only two measures where the army exceeded the 70 percent floor were air transport (73.91 percent) and electronic warfare (80.05 percent). However, more than half of the army's helicopters are not equipped with weapons systems capable of providing close air-ground support. In effect, the army's air transport command is used mainly to ferry generals around the country on official and personal missions.

Moreover, the army's electronic warfare systems have been withdrawn from border regions and redeployed mainly to Caracas and central Venezuela, where they are used to conduct electronic surveillance of all communications inside Fort Tiuna, Palo Negro and other bases. Instead of intercepting Colombian communications, the Chavez government is using its electronic surveillance systems to spy on Venezuelan army units in a permanent effort to locate and identify officers that could be conspiring against him.

Modernization Efforts

Since the end of 2004 the Chavez government has signed a series of contracts or announced negotiations to acquire new army, air force and navy weapons systems. Separately, the Chavez government has invested substantial sums in buying paramilitary equipment (handguns, automatic weapons, body armor) to strengthen its political and civilian security forces.

The main purchase made to date was the contract for 100,000 Russian AK-103 and AK-104 assault rifles. The first shipment will arrive before the end of 2005, and when all of the new rifles are received Venezuela’s stock of automatic assault weapons will have doubled to more than 200,000, including the new Russian rifles and the old FAL 7.62-mm rifles that will be decommissioned from the FAN and reportedly distributed to elite forces in the new civilian military reserve.

Additionally, Chavez reportedly has quietly negotiated the purchase of another 150,000 AK-47 assault rifles from North Korea ’s government. If this report is accurate, it means that within a year or two Chavez’s Bolivarian FAN and civilian reserve could be armed with about 400,000 AK and FAL assault rifles. The assault rifle contract with Russia also gives the FAN the right to manufacture AK assault rifles and munitions in Venezuela, so theoretically Chavez could arm his entire military reserve of 2.6 million people with assault rifles.

These assault rifles are the most significant arms purchase Chavez has made to date. An arsenal of this size gives Chavez the potential to ruthlessly crush internal revolt against his increasingly dictatorial regime, and also supply weapons clandestinely to radical militant groups in Colombia and other Latin American countries.

Chavez is using Venezuela ’s oil wealth and Fidel Castro’s political advice to foment instability across the region. The prime targets are Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and El Salvador. If Chavez and Castro can destabilize nominally pro-U.S. governments in these countries they can literally push the U.S. out of Latin America strategically. Chavez and Castro also are quietly seeking to destabilize the Dominican Republic, and encourage political unrest in Jamaica. Chavez and Castro also want to pull Panama into their orbit of influence, and support radical groups in Mexico – although Mexico is a long-term target for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).

Venezuela ’s citizens are the group at greatest risk from Chavez’s expanding military machine. The FAN cannot project force outside Venezuela ’s borders. However, it is more than sufficiently equipped today to suppress internal disruptions quickly. As the new Russian and North Korean assasult rifles start to arrive, the FAN’s ability to function as the president’s main instrument of internal repression will grow significantly. Nevertheless, Venezuela ’s oil wealth, the Cuban regime’s regional intelligence network and its vast experience in fomenting instability, and the purchase by Chavez of 100,000 to 250,000 assault rifles likely also will be a lethal mix in Latin America for years to come.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (FAR)

Cuba ’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) are an important strategic and tactical component of the Chávez government’s Bolivarian national security doctrine in which the United States is Venezuela ’s greatest external enemy and a constant national security threat. President Chávez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro have an explicit government-to-government mutual defense agreement. As a result, the FAR’s order of battle – meaning its organization, deployment, weapons systems and readiness levels – must be factored into any analysis of the Chávez government’s national security and military concerns.

Cuba 's national security doctrine and military organization since Fidel Castro's ascension to power in 1959 have focused primarily on defending against an attack from the U.S. or armed Cuban expatriate groups. From the early 1960s through 1990, Cuba received vast quantities of Soviet military equipment, as well as financial, economic and ideological support. This massive support ended abruptly in 1991 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, resulting in a marked decrease in the readiness of the Cuban armed forces. The air force alone lost over 25% of its inventory.

Cuba 's military, once the second-largest in Latin America, cannot be considered an offensive force today. It is essentially a defensive force. The FAR has shrunk more than 75% from its 1989 size. The Cuban military has not received any new military equipment since 1990 and no spare parts from Moscow since 1993. Approximately half of the active-duty force is devoted at any one time to business and productive activities that finance the FAR’s budget, feed the troops and help support the Cuban economy.

Approximately 70,000 Cuban soldiers are devoted full-time to supporting the civilian economy and receive only cursory training. Bicycles are now routinely used to transport heavy machine guns and mortars as a fuel-saving measure. The Cuban army has been reduced to a primarily infantry force whose new recruits generally receive rudimentary training. Some 75% of major ground equipment has been decommissioned and stored.

President Fidel Castro is the commander-in-chief of the FAR and supervisor of all military affairs. However, operational control is held by the National Defense Minister, who also heads the Defense Council.

The FAR was established in 1959, and includes all ground forces, the Revolutionary Navy (MGR), the Air and Air Defense Force (DAAFAR), Territorial Militia Troops (MTT) and the Youth Labor Army (EJT). Cuban special operations forces, organized along the line of former Soviet Spetsnaz forces, are subordinate to the Cuban army.

The Territorial Troops Militia (MTT) is the largest of Cuba 's paramilitary forces, with an active force of nearly one million personnel. The MTT is responsible for local defense and intervention in civil disturbances, but is also a reserve force that supplements regular army units in the event of a conflict.

Pre-conscription age males are part of the 70,000-strong Youth Labor Army where they receive military technical training and indoctrination. Youth Labor Army cadres act as a second-tier reserve for the MTT in time of war. Cuba also operates a 50,000-member paramilitary Civil Defense Force.

The Ministry of Interior operates two paramilitary units: the border guards and state security forces. The 6,500-strong border guard is responsible for coastal defense operations and maintains 20 Zhuk and 3 Stenka inshore patrol craft, not all of which are currently operational. Border guard troops also operate small coastal artillery garrisons in conjunction with the Cuban army and navy. The larger state security force (20,000 personnel) is responsible for internal police duties.

Each corps contains regular army units that are supplemented by reserve and territorial militia personnel to bring them up to full strength. The manning level of each army formation is along former Soviet lines or by categories. Category A units are manned at 100%; Category B units have 50-60% of their assigned manpower; and Category C units are shell units with only a few active personnel assigned.

The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimate that there are no fully operational Cuban units above the battalion level. Cuban Special Operations forces are organized along the lines of Soviet Spetsnaz forces. Throughout the 1980s, Cuban special operations personnel were active in guerrilla training in El Salvador and Panama. In March 1996, it was reported that Cuban special operations officers were receiving specialized instruction and training at facilities located in Vietnam. Many of these officers are trained to infiltrate to the United States to disrupt military staging and supply points if called upon.

These Special Forces also could be deployed to Venezuela in a conflict scenario to support the Venezuelan territorial guard in an asymmetrical conflict. Intelligence sources believe, in fact, that Cuban Special Forces are actively engaged in Venezuela training FAN and civilian reservists in the lethal arts of insurgency and guerrilla warfare.

The FAR does have some infantry weapons systems that could be used in Venezuela in an asymmetrical conflict, although it is not likely Castro will relinquish any weapons to Venezuela when Chávez has over $30 billion in foreign exchange reserves he can spend on military hardware. For example, Cuba has over 1,000 mortars ranging in caliber from 82-mm to 160-mm that could be used by Bolivarian Territorial Guard fighters in an asymmetric guerrilla conflict. The FAR also have about 1,600 surface-to-air missiles, some of which might be deployed to Venezuela if Chávez invokes his mutual defense pact with Castro.

On paper, at least, the Cuban air force has four fighter/interceptor squadrons, two fighter/bomber squadrons that theoretically could be deployed in a conventional conflict scenario affecting Venezuela. In numbers the Cuban air force has about 200 fighters including 18 MiG 29 Fulcrums of which only six are believed by the CIA and DIA to be operational, 65 Mig-23 Floggers, and 135 MiG-21 Fishbeds.


There is much less substance to the FAN-FAR strategic alliance than President Chavez claims. The Venezuelan-Cuban strategic military partnership is not operationally capable of conducting a sustained conventional conflict against superior U.S. forces. If the U.S. government were to launch a conventional military invasion of Venezuela – which Chavez apparently hopes for desperately because he rants about it so often – the regular FAN would collapse in less than 24 hours. Eliecer Otayza’s assertion that the FAN would last three days is wildly optimistic. Moreover, it’s unlikely that Cuba would come to Venezuela’s aid militarily because the Cuban FAR’s has lost the capability to fight a conventional military conflict in Cuba, so the idea that conventional troops and weapons systems would be deployed by Havana to Venezuela is wishful thinking.

The FAN-FAR partnership does not seriously challenge Colombia in any conventional conflict scenario despite Venezuela’s apparent superiority over Colombia in terms of battle tanks and advanced fighter/bombers like the FAN’s AMX-30 tanks and F-16 and Mirage 2000 fighter/bombers.

The Venezuelan-Cuban mutual defense pact is mainly political hot air. The Venezuelan FAN and Cuban FAR are not capable of coming to each other’s aid tactically in any conventional conflict scenario. The Cuban FAR does have a substantial capability in terms of its Special Forces and Interior Ministry security regiments to support the Chávez government on Venezuelan territory in a scenario involving an asymmetrical conflict. It’s more likely, however, that this potential conflict scenario would involve an internal revolt, not an invasion from the U.S.

As a result, this analysis concludes that the new LOFAN, and everything President Chávez is doing to expand the FAN and bind it more tightly to his Bolivarian revolution under direct presidential control is intended to assure Chávez’s permanent stay in power, and to repress lethally any internal threats to the stability of his increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regime. In effect, the Bolivarian FAN is being transformed into President Chávez’s Praetorian guard, a role Chávez is strengthening by expanding the FAN’s budget to raise the salaries and benefits paid to the FAN’s loyal chavista officers and personnel.

The Chávez government’s proposed military budget for 2006 contemplates a 33.4% increase in defense-related spending, from the dollar equivalent of $1.55 billion in 2005 to nearly $2.1 billion in 2006, about half of which is earmarked for military salaries and related benefits.

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