Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has announced plans to create armed "workers militias," in what would be a dramatic expansion of pro-government militias at a time of political instability and rising insecurity.
In a televised address, Maduro said he had ordered military leaders to set up "Bolivarian Workers Militias," in order to "strengthen the worker-military alliance," reported AFP.
"We will be more respected if the workers militias have 300,000, 500,000 a million, two million workers uniformed, armed, prepared to defend sovereignty, the homeland, [and] the stability of the Bolivarian Revolution," he said.
The new militias will supplement existing pro-government militias, which were founded by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2005. According to the government the militias are over 130,000 strong, but how many of these are armed and trained is a contentious point.
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It is currently unclear how Maduro's new militias will differ from the existing militia groups and his plan seems to be little more than an extension of a dream Chavez frequently expressed but never truly realized. On Maduro's part, the plan appears to be part of the president's strategy to rally shaky support among his Chavista base by creating a siege mentality, presenting himself as the key to defending the Bolivarian Revolution from an assault by the opposition.
Because of the logistical challenges of establishing such a force, it is doubtful that these militias will consist of millions of uniformed, armed and trained people, as Maduro hopes. However, with Venezuela riven with political instability and rising insecurity the policy is nonetheless dangerous.
Following the post-election violence that rocked the country, the expansion of pro-government militias increases the possibility of further political violence and creates an intimidating atmosphere for opposition politicians and supporters.
From a security standpoint, unless the militias are closely supervised -- and there has been little indication this has been the case so far -- then there is the risk of them engaging in criminal activities or fuelling violence in Venezuela by selling on their weapons.