|Venezuela's Chavez during his weekly television program Aló Presidente, broadcast from the state of Apure|
Caracas, Venezuela, April 4, 2005 (Venezuelanalysis.com)—Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced on his weekly television program Aló Presidente that a military reserve force of 1.5 million Venezuelans will be trained in order "to defend, with the people, the sovereignty and greatness of this land."
The Commander General of the Army Reserves, Julio Quintero Viloria, will be in charge of what is to be the largest reserve force in Venezuelan history.
Speaking from the western state of Apure, Chávez explained that although the armed forces will train, equip and prepare the reserves, only the active military officers will be armed, clarifying that although the military reserves and the forces of national mobilization are two complementary mechanisms, they are distinct and have different purposes.
Although the Venezuelan President pointed out that no one wanted war, he said that one of the best forms to avoid it, "and this is what we are beginning to do here," is to prepare oneself for it. "If anyone were to come here and to try to seize the fatherland from us, we would make them bite the dust," he affirmed.
The Chávez administration has refrained from specifically mentioning the US as the catalyst in strengthening their defensive capacity; yet on other occasions Chavez has suggested that if the U.S. were ever to attack Venezuela, the country would be prepared.
The Bush administration has through various spokespersons said that it is “concerned” about Venezuela’s "arms build-up," which includes the purchase of 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov rifles and helicopters, Brazilian planes, and Spanish patrol boats.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expressed concern about Venezuela's plans to buy the Russian rifles. During a visit to Brazil, Rumsfeld said he could not see what Venezuela would do with such amount of weapons. “I can’t imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s. I just hope that, personally hope, that it doesn’t happen… I can’t imagine that if it did happen, that it would be good for the hemisphere,” Rumsfeld said.
Chavez has said that these weapons are for defending Venezuela’s border against incursions and for fighting smuggling and drug trafficking. According to the Chavez government, Venezuela’s small arms arsenal is over 50 years old and it has insufficient number of vehicles to patrol its long coastline or its 1,400 mile border with Colombia.
According the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in mid-March Washington is committed to a campaign to "increase awareness among Venezuela's neighbors of President Chávez’s destabilizing acts with the expectation that they will join us in defending regional stability, security and prosperity."
Colombia’s Uribe says cooperation with Venezuela keeps improving
Attempts to persuade Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, arguably one of the United States' closest allies in the region to denounce Chávez have also proven unfruitful, as Uribe has yet to criticize Venezuela's alleged "military build-up". Just today, in an interview with a Colombian radio station, President Uribe said with respect to Venezuela’s willingness to help fight terrorism, that “Every day we see a more favorable evolution of the Venezuelan government.”
With regard to why Uribe has not complained about Venezuela’s purchase of 100,000 Kalashnikovs, Uribe said, “It is more important to go to a summit and to ask that controls are adopted, to insist that international agreements are adhered to on the negotiation and purchase of arms, than to simply isolate oneself, withdraw, or cry.”
Few, if any, Latin American leaders have bought into this idea, as recent meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox and a phone calls to Nestor Kirshner, the President of Argentina have been met with a lukewarm response, at best. In a recent four-nation summit between Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and Spain, Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva defended his Venezuelan counterpart, affirming that, "we do not accept defamations and insinuations against compañeros."