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The civil-military relations in the Venezuela of Chávez

https://global-strategy.org/the-civil-military-relations-in-the-venezuela-of-chavez/ The civil-military relations in the Venezuela of Chávez 2017-09-18 16:09:29 José Carlos Hernández Blog post Estudios Globales Iberoamérica
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Abstract: Under the mandates of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, Venezuela experienced a series of profound social, political and economic transformations. After his election in 1998, a process of modification of civic-military relations and the role of the military in society began. During the first decade of the 21st century there was a notable politicization of the military and a militarization of civil society.


Hugo Chávez, many years before he took to power, already had in mind a new political project for Venezuela with which he intended to end the political regime inaugurated with the Pacto de Punto Fijo that the Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (COPEI) and Acción Democrática (AD) inaugurated in 1958. Although being a military man, he tried to reach power through a coup d’état, Chavez finally reached him through the democratic way. However, it is essential to attend his military training to understand the reason why, since his rise to power, he defined his Executive as a civic-military Government, as well as why he conceived the military as an actor with a political role to play.

Thus, when Hugo Chávez became President of Venezuela, he launched a process of political, social and economic transformations in which the military played a fundamental role. Although it is true that these had an essential political role in 19th century Venezuela and half of the 20th century (being the country ruled by caudillos and military), with the arrival of Chavez to power until then the Armed Forces changed radically the way of relating to society and even the role to fulfill within the State.

The National Armed Force (FAN), a denomination that it adopted in 1999, has been strongly linked to what has been agreed upon as the “Bolivarian revolution”. From the moment in which the 1999 Constitution was approved, the then President already had in mind to reconfigure the military institution. On the one hand, he intended to configure an organization prepared for asymmetric warfare. On the other hand, maintain a traditional structure trained and equipped for conventional warfare. However, beyond this division, the FAN (later FANB) was the nucleus on the pivotal political project launched by Hugo Chavez, originally reflected in the 1999 Constitution.

In this sense, it seems clear that, since the approval of the current Constitution until the death of the then President, a series of changes were taking place in the role of the FAN and in the civil-military relations itself, an element that constitutes our object of study. The general objective that we propose in this work is to elucidate in what kind of theoretical model these relations fit, taking as reference those proposed by Janowitz, that is, democratic, aristocratic, authoritarian and State – Garrison, the latter being the one we propose in our hypothesis. For this, our specific objective is to examine and describe the most important reforms (or attempts) produced in the legal framework that affected the FAN during the presidential mandates of Hugo Chávez, namely: Constitution of 1999, Ley Orgánica de Defensa de la Nación of 2002 (LODN), Ley Orgánica de la Fuerza Armada Nacional of 2005 (LOFAN), Preliminary Draft Constitutional Reform of 2007 and Ley Orgánica de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana of 2008 (LOFANB).

It is true that the changes in civic – military relations can be studied taking different variables, but while the analysis of these relations has not led to rigorous formulations about the variables that are significant for a study of this type (Harries – Jenkins & Moskos, 1984), we have chosen to select the legal framework as an independent variable, since, as we shall see, this has had a great impact on the way in which the military and civilians were related in Venezuela under the presidential mandates of Hugo Chávez.

Theory of civic – military relations

Civic-military relations are an object of study to which social scientists paid little attention in the period before the Second World War, which does not mean that contemporary studies on the subject lack complete historical precedents (Harries – Jenkins & Moskos, 1984). However, in this work the focus will be on the reference authors who have dealt with our object of study, as well as about someone else who has also focused on the Venezuelan case.

One of those relevant authors is Huntington (1985), who proposes two models of analysis of civil control over the military: subjective control and objective control. The latter consists in rooting military professionalism to ensure civil control over the military apparatus, that is, civilians control the military based on their political neutrality and professionalism. For its part, subjective control emphasizes civil authority over the military, using government institutions and institutional mechanisms. “In both cases, the military professional condition is an antidote to the illegitimate political action of the military sector” (Irwin, 2003: 8). In this sense, Huntington understands that if military professionalism exists, political protagonism can not be given to the military, while if it occurs, it is due to the absence of said professionalism.

In order to finish commenting on Huntington’s proposals, we must now consider the four conditionalities that the objective model implies. Namely:

1) a high level of military professionalism and recognition by the military of the limits of their professional competence; 2) the effective subordination of the military to civilian political leaders (…); 3) recognition and acceptance of these leaders in an area of professional competence and autonomy for the military; and 4) consequently, the minimization of military intervention in politics and political intervention in military affairs. (Angulo Rivas, 2001: 136).

On the other hand, Janowitz (cited in Harries – Jenkins & Moskos, 1984) understands that we can identify four models of civic-military relations, namely: aristocratic, democratic, totalitarian, and State-Garrison.

In the first of the models, both civilian and military elites are functionally and socially integrated. The existence of a partially monolithic power structure, combined with a narrow base on which both elites are recruited, guarantees a subjective control of the military. On the other hand, under the democratic model, the political class maintains the objective control of the Armed Forces through a formal system of rules. However, this model is considered more as a political goal than as a reflection of historical reality. Thus, in the absence of this model, the authoritarian is the accepted alternative to the aristocratic one. In the authoritarian model, the military is subordinated to a political elite recruited based on their ideological loyalty, which translates into a total cancellation of the organizational independence of a professional armed forces. Regarding the fourth model, there is nothing better than Janowitz ‘own words (cited in Harries – Jenkins & Moskos, 1984: 87 – 88) to summarize their characteristics clearly. So,

Even when the final result of the Garrison – State approaches in many aspects the totalitarian model, the first one has a different historical development. It does not consist, much less, in the direct control of the policy by the military. Since the modern industrialized nations can not be governed solely by the political dominance of a single and small bloc, the Garrison-State is not a regression towards a military dictatorship. It is the final result of the rise to power of the military elite under conditions of prolonged international tension. Internal liberties are hindered and preparation for war becomes of paramount importance. The State – Garrison appears as a new pattern of coalition, in which the military groups control, directly or indirectly, disproportionate plots of political and administrative power. The military retains its organizational independence, provided that they make the necessary alliances with civil and political factions.

In another order of things, Nordlinger (cited in Irwin, 2003) affirms that the civil predominance over the military is achieved through three models of civil control: traditional, liberal and penetration.

In the traditional model there is no tension in civic-military relations, and this is due to the fact that the functions of the military and Government apparatus are dominated by the same elite. The classic example is that of the European aristocrats of the 17th and 18th centuries who, above all, were military men belonging to a well-defined social sector.

The liberal model is based on the existence of elites with their own and well differentiated responsibilities. Military officers are professionals or are in the process of being, and are instructed in the principles of respect and obedience towards civil authorities. In this way it seeks to depoliticize the military sector as far as possible, although always respecting the autonomy of the military institution in terms of professional and military aspects. Respect for this autonomy on the part of the ruling civil elite is indispensable for the maintenance of this model, which is characteristic of industrialized societies since the 19th century.

Finally, the basic feature of the penetration model is the infiltration that the civil authorities carry out on the military organization. Within the Armed Forces penetrate ideas, ideologies and even individuals from politics. Political indoctrination reaches the troop and the officer corps. Moreover, to obtain obedience and fidelity of the latter, a system of rewards and punishments is used, as well as means of supervision and control. This penetration model can be attributed to totalitarian systems like North Korea.

On the other hand, beyond those who have written about models and theories of civic – military relations in general, other authors have focused on studying the Venezuelan case and proposing a model for it.

In this sense, Rodríguez – Franco (2006: 258) affirms that civic – military relations in Venezuela respond to the model of civilian personalist control. His argument is based on the fact that during Chávez’s presidency, the control of civilians over the military, whose guidelines were embodied in the 1999 Constitution, was a “politicized control and where the central value of military action was [evaluated] starting -not so much for its efficiency- but for its loyalty to the President of the Republic “.

However, this author points out that it is not possible to fully apply any previously proposed model regarding civilian control over the military, since they all escape the particularities of the control that the Chavez Government had over the military institution. Thus, this author argues that there were four mechanisms that were used by the Executive to maintain control over the FAN:

  1. Elimination of the apoliticism of the military contemplated in the Constitution of 1961 and granting of the right to vote, although political militancy is prohibited.
  2. Possibility of the existence of a “bureaucratic dualism” that has allowed Venezuelan officials to be appointed and removed freely by the President, a mechanism that has worked as an incentive to officers who have been loyal to him.
  3. The power of the Executive to award passes to military retirement and promotion, which corresponded to the Senate before the 1999 Constitution was approved. This mechanism obliges the officers to show their loyalty to the President before any other state authority.
  4. Socialization of the military through direct presidential orders whose execution and coordination corresponds to military personnel, performing social assistance tasks. These actions have a double function: diffuser and socializing. As for the first, it spreads a sense of closeness of the actions of the President towards the population, through military personnel whom they identify as disciplined, loyal and capable of spreading the virtues of the Government. With regard to the second, it makes the military in contact with the needs of the population “and restricts the formation of the military defense of the State, a very propitious aspect to avoid conspiracies that could not be detected by the civil – military intelligence services”(Rodríguez – Franco, 2006: 265).

A new model of civic – military relations: changes in the normative framework

After his election in 1998, Hugo Chávez began a process of transformation of the approaches on civic – military relations and the role of the military in society (Jácome, 2011). The first instrument through which this transformation would begin was the approval of a new Constitution in 1999 that would replace that of 1961. Some authors understand that this maneuver constituted a demolition of “the old military structure to build a new one attached to its political project “(San Miguel, 2016: 3).

Influencing this aspect, Rivas (2009) compiles ten distortions introduced in the 1999 Constitution in relation to the new powers and / or roles of the FAN in Venezuela:

  1. Elimination of the prohibition regarding the simultaneous exercise of the military authority with the civil authority, which has caused hundreds of military personnel to have acceded to positions in the Administration[1];
  2. Elimination of parliamentary control over the promotion of high-ranking military personnel, with the exclusive attribution of this competence to the Commander-in-Chief of the FAN / President of the Republic, with the effect that loyalty to the President is indispensable for ascending the rank :
  3. Removal of the non-deliberative and non-political character of the military establishment, which becomes an institution without political militancy, allowing for it to intervene in the issues being resolved by state bodies;
  4. Elimination of the Constitution from the express obligation that the FAN had to be guarantor of the stability of democratic institutions;
  5. Elimination of the obligation under the 1961 Constitution that the FAN had to obey this and the laws above any other obligation;
  6. Granting the right to vote to the military for the first time in the history of the country;
  7. Introduction of the provision that it would be the Supreme Court of Justice in charge of deciding in which cases high-ranking military officers could be tried, a procedural privilege that until then had been reserved for high civil servants;
  8. Substitution of the actor that take care of the control over the use of any type of weapon in the country, since from then on it would be the FAN and no longer the civil administration;
  9. Introduction of the possibility of attributing administrative police functions to the FAN; and
  10. Adoption of a concept of national security according to which almost everything that happened in the nation would concern the security of the State.

This set of changes, according to Rivas (2009: 75), obeyed the decision of then President Hugo Chávez to “make the armed institution a revolutionary army, an institution at the service of a strongly ideological political project.”

In another order of things, other authors such as Jácome (2011), Ramos Pismataro & Otálvaro (2008) or Rodríguez – Franco (2006), allude to the importance of the inclusion in the 1999 Constitution of the concept of “co-responsibility” between the civil society and the State in the “economic, social, political, cultural, geographical, environmental and military sphere” (article 326), giving way to the transformation of the relationship between civil and military spheres, contributing to the definition of the limits between the security and defense aspects. The mere inclusion of this concept in the constitutional text has had a greater impact than those that a simple view could advance. On the one hand, civilians and military are equated in an obligation that corresponds to the State, that is, in the defense of the nation. On the other, the participation of the military in food distribution tasks, construction of infrastructures and a whole series of activities that contribute to the country’s development are encouraged.

The following approved norm, with strong incidence on the model of civic – military relations, was the Ley Orgánica de Seguridad de la Nación of 2002 (OLSN), which embodied a military doctrine that came to replace the National Security Doctrine contained in the Ley Orgánica de Seguridad y Defensa of 1976, whose guidelines were drawn by the School of the Americas, the National War College and the Inter-American Defense College, based on the anti-subversive struggle (Ramos Pismataro & Otálvaro, 2008).

The purpose of this Law is “to regulate the activity of the State and society, in matters of security and integral defense, in accordance with the constitutional guidelines, principles and purposes” (Art. 1 LOSN). This concept of security was defined in this very Law in a fairly broad manner, which allows the military to assume competences in various areas of social life, which would not be a disadvantage had it not been because in Venezuela there is no strong civil control about the military (Ramos Pismataro & Otálvaro, 2008). This broad scope of the nation’s security concept can be seen in Article 2 of the LOSN, according to which said security,

is based on integral development, and is the condition, state or situation that guarantees the enjoyment and exercise of rights and guarantees in the economic, social, political, cultural, geographical, environmental and military spheres of constitutional principles and values by the population, institutions and each of the people that make up the State and society, with a generational projection, within a democratic, participatory and protagonist system, free of threats to their survival, their sovereignty and the integrity of their territory and other spaces geographic.

It is also important to highlight the inclusion in the LOSN, in addition to the Constitution, of the co-responsibility between the State and society, equating the military and civilians in the tasks of security and defense of the nation. This norms goes even further by pointing out that the different activities carried out by both actors “in the economic, social, political, cultural, geographical, environmental and military spheres, will be aimed at guaranteeing the satisfaction of the national interests and objectives embodied in the Constitution.” and the laws “(Article 5 LOSN). Noting this rule that the FAN will have jurisdiction over all of these areas, it opens the way for the military to participate in activities that transcend the traditional functions of the military establishment.

Finally, this law highlights the concept of integral defense[2], on the basis of which President Hugo Chávez outlined in May 2004 “three strategic lines to begin to shape (…): 1) Strengthening of the Armed Forces; 2) Deepening of the civic military union; and 3) Strengthening and popular participation in the National Defense “(San Miguel, 2016: 4). Thus, a year later, the new Venezuelan military doctrine would emerge: Integral Defense of the Nation. The new FAN educational programs included the study of socialism. In addition, there was a restructuring of the military education system. In 2010, the Bolivarian Military University was created, to which the schools and the training and training centers belonging to the four components of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense were assigned.

On the other hand, in that same year 2005, in order to involve the civilian population more deeply in military affairs, the General Command of the Military Reserve and National Mobilization was created by decree of April 2, 2005, directly dependent on the President of the Republic. Since then the reserve has a permanent operativity and not only in case of external aggression or national mobilization. The officials of several governmental institutions are required to be part of the National Reserve, with which they have agreements to form << bodies of combatants >> that would intervene in case of having to maintain the internal order. In addition, members of other organizations such as community councils have also participated in different military maneuvers with the aim of receiving training to maintain internal order.

Subsequently, in September 2005, the Ley Orgánica de la Fuerza Armada Nacional (LOFAN) was approved, approved by the National Assembly, including as one of the three entities of national defense the General Command of the National Reserve and National Mobilization[3]. This Law included two new bodies to the four traditional components of the FAN, called Territorial Guard and National Reserve. The creation of these bodies “occurs within the framework of co-responsibility between the State and society as the foundation of the Nation’s security, and aims to comply with the Integral Defense of the Nation” (Ramos Pismataro & Otálvaro, 2008: 33).

The Reserve is composed of “all Venezuelans of age who are not in active military service, who have completed military service or who voluntarily join the reserve units,” while the Territorial Guard “is constituted by citizens who voluntarily organize themselves “(articles 10 and 11 of the LOFAN) and both bodies are under the General Command of the National Reserve and National Mobilization, whose commander reports directly to the President.

This strengthening of the Reserve and the Territorial Guard was interpreted as the result of the distrust that Hugo Chávez had in the FAN, as he feared that a part of it would be revealed and give a coup d’état (Ramos Pismataro & Otálvaro, 2008).

The most substantial modifications introduced by this 2005 reform were two[4]: ​​1) separation of the functional / administrative, command and operational lines, derived from the modification of the national defense structure, and the inclusion of the Reserve; and 2) establishment of Military Zones throughout the country (San Miguel, 2016).

However, these constitutional and legal changes and the consequent alteration of civic – military relations were not reduced to those previously mentioned, since the then President intended to continue radicalizing his political project, the 2007 constitutional reform bill being one of the instruments he would use to achieve such a purpose. With a margin of 1.4%, the President suffered an electoral defeat in the referendum that took place on December 2.

The reform project touched on important issues for the National Armed Forces (FAN). Aspects that would lead to important modifications not only in its structure and institutionality but also to the definition of the functions of the FAN as well as new contents regarding the national defense. (Jácome, 2008: 1).

Hugo Chávez intended to give a new direction to the then FAN, for what, during 2007, promoted a constitutional reform proposing modifications related to the functions, structure and definition of the FAN. The purpose of this reform was to elaborate a legal and constitutional framework to establish an institution parallel to the FAN. In the preliminary draft constitutional reform that Hugo Chávez presented to the National Assembly in 2007, he proposed the following:

The Bolivarian Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist body, organized by the State to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation, to preserve it from any external or internal attack and to ensure the integrity of the geographical space, through study, planning and execution of the Bolivarian military doctrine, the application of the principles of integral military defense and the popular war of resistance, the permanent participation in tasks of maintenance of the citizen security, and conservation of the internal order, as well as the active participation in plans for the economic, social, scientific and technological development of the Nation. In the fulfillment of its function, it will always be at the service of the Venezuelan people in defense of its sacred interests and in no case to that of any oligarchy or foreign imperial power. Its fundamental pillars are this Constitution and laws, as well as discipline, obedience and subordination. Its historical pillars are in Bolívar’s mandate: “Liberate the country, take up the sword in defense of social guarantees and deserve the blessings of the people.” (Quoted by Ramos Pismataro & Otálvaro, 2008: 20 – 21).

In particular, following Jácome (2008), the constitutional changes made to the FAN by the aforementioned draft project sought the following:

  • Modify article 328 of the 1999 Constitution to eliminate the non-partisan and professional nature of the military.
  • Modify article 329 so that the Armed Forces could be renamed the Bolivarian Armed Force and constitute a “patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist” body. At the same time, five components were established within the Armed Forces: Bolivarian Army, Bolivarian Navy, Bolivarian Aviation, Bolivarian Territorial Guard and Bolivarian Popular Militia.
  • Modify article 236 so that the President is exclusively in charge of military promotions and appointment to positions in all grades and hierarchies. Also, the President would control the so-called popular militias.
  • Modify article 328 to include in the Constitution the concept of “popular war of resistance”, with which civilians were converted into combatants.
  • Establish, through a transitory disposition, that the Bolivarian Popular Militia would be the fifth component of the FAN, in the words of the President himself, a “guerrilla force then, (…) a force for urban guerrilla and rural guerrilla in the mountains, and to strengthen the combat units “(quoted by Jácome, 2008: 4).
  • Expand the functions of the FAN through the assumption by these of tasks of citizen security, with the consequent militarization of police activities and blurring the boundaries between civil and military aspects.

Despite the defeat, Hugo Chávez did not desist and continued with the pretense of promoting the reform, which materialized through an Enabling Law. Thus, on July 31, 2008 was published in the Gaceta Oficial the Decree 6.239, which came into force the new Ley Orgánica de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (LOFANB), which collected some precepts included in the aforementioned reform proposal. From that moment, the Bolivarian National Militia became the fifth component of the now Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB). This Militia constitutes an armed body not contemplated in the Constitution, so it is not possible to activate any mechanism of constitutional control to prevent its operation. With this change, the FANB, beyond having a fifth component, became the defense service of the political project of the << Bolivarian revolution >> and not of the nation as a whole (Jácome, 2011).

The implications that all these changes had on the relations between FANB and society do not allow us to sustain our hypothesis that the model of civic – military relations that occurred in Venezuela during the period 1999 – 2013 was the so – called State – Garrison, and for a number of reasons. In the first place, it is true that during the period studied we can observe that the military were gradually controlling large plots of political power, although they always did so maintaining loyalty to the President, who had control over the military establishment. However, while in the State-Garrison model the military rises to power in a context of prolonged international tension, we can not do anything but accept that our hypothesis has not been confirmed, because although it is true that Hugo Chávez tried to access the as a military power, he finally did it democratically as a civilian, and we can not say that the year 1998 was especially tense in terms of international relations. However, gradually, the military began to take over large plots of political and organizational power, always keeping its own organizational independence.


The study of civic – military relations is a complex task when trying to do in a State in constant transformation. This is what happens in the case of Chavez’s Venezuela, subject to continuous changes in the social, political, economic and military spheres. The military institution had a very clear role in the regime of the Punto Fijo, a situation that was altered by the deep transformation that the military institution has been suffering since 1999, when the relationship between society and military establishment becomes more complex and, for so, your own study.

At the beginning of the investigation, we supported the hypothesis that the civic – military relations existing in Chavez ‘s Venezuela obeyed the theoretical model of State – Garrison proposed by Janowitz. However, this is something that has not been confirmed, and we believe that this has been, in part, because we have selected only one independent variable. Although it is true that the normative reforms that have affected the now FANB have meant very deep changes in the model of civic – military relations, these are insufficient when it comes to elucidating before which model we are. For such a task one would have to contemplate the personal loyalties to the incumbent President by the military elite (for which it would be necessary to interview those high commanders), the plots of political power that the military establishment holds formally or informally and even the participation of the military in public state enterprises, all variables that we have left out of our investigation. However, even in the case of having contemplated them we would have managed to fit Venezuela into one of the theoretical models proposed at the beginning of this work, since the peculiarities of the project called “Bolivarian revolution” prevent it.

However, if something is clear to us after the completion of this investigation is that the factor “loyalty” to the figure of Hugo Chávez by the military body largely explains the subordination of the military institution to civil control, even if it is a civil control personalists, then, as we have seen, the President carried out profound reforms to ensure an almost absolute domination of the military establishment. And this despite the fact that since the approval of the 1999 Constitution, the boundaries between the civil and the military elements have been blurred.


Angulo Rivas, A. (2001). Civiles, Militares y Política en Venezuela. FERMENTUM  Mérida – Venezuela – ISSN 0798-3069 – AÑO 11 – Nº 30 – ENERO – ABRIL –  2001 – 115-14

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Asamblea Nacional (1999). Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Gaceta Nº. 36.860, del 30 de diciembre de 1999.

Asamblea Nacional (2002). Ley Orgánica de Seguridad de la Nación, Gaceta Nº. 37.594, de 18 de diciembre de 2002.

Asamblea Nacional (2005). Ley Orgánica de la Fuerza Armada Nacional, Gaceta Nº. 38.280, de 26 de septiembre de 2005.

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Huntington, S. (1985). Poder, ideología y profesionalidad: Las relaciones cívico militares en teoría. En Rafael Bañón y José Antonio Olmeda (Comp.). La institución militar en el Estado contemporáneo(pp. 235 – 253). Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

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[1] According to a study carried out by Buttó (2013), thanks to this modification, 720 important government positions were occupied by the military.

[2] According to article 3 of the LOSN, integral defense “is the set of systems, methods, measures and defensive actions, whatever their nature and intensity, which are actively formulated, coordinated and executed by the State with the participation of the institutions public and private, and natural and legal persons, national or foreign, with the aim of safeguarding the independence, freedom, democracy, sovereignty, territorial integrity and integral development of the Nation “.

[3] The other two are the Ministry of Defense and the Operational Strategic Command.

[4] San Miguel (2016) really points out three in his article, but we understand that the third one referred to was already introduced in the 1999 Constitution, since the author refers to the creation for the President of the rank of Commander in Chief, highest hierarchy of the National Armed Forces and in charge of exercising the supreme command of the latter.

José Carlos Hernández

Investigador predoctoral FPU en el Departamento de Ciencia Política de la Universidad de Granada y editor técnico de la Revista de Estudios en Seguridad Internacional

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José Carlos Hernández