Happy Patriot's Day, everyone. On this anniversary of the shot heard round the world, El Mico Putumayo's voice is being heard around the world whining that the U.S. is threatening Venezuela and Cuba - and now he's creating his own version of the SA, he says, to fight the coming invasion.
The USS George Washington strike group is conducting exercises in the Caribbean called "Operation Partnership of the Americas." It's part training exercise for US sailors, part training with other nations, and part good will tour. For instance, the George Washington will visit Antigua and host planned events.
chavez, though, has long predicted a U.S. invasion and the presence of the US Navy gives him an excuse to play dictator again. He talked with Reuters.
"They are doing maneuvers right here," Chavez told a student meeting in the country's west. "This is a threat, not just against us, against Venezuela, against Cuba."
His reaction is interesting. He's set up his own version of the Brownshirts - the dreaded Nazi private army, the Storm Troops, named for the color of their uniforms. hugo's created what he calls the Territorial Guards - a militia unit that claims to have 150,000 members - a larger band than the 100,000 Venezuelan regular army, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
But critics say the real goal of the mobilization is to suppress domestic threats to chavez himself - the same use Hitler made of the storm troopers early on.
Who's joining up? Mostly people who live in the slums and really need the $7.45 they earn per training session.
"We're going to be a country of soldiers," declares Roberto Salazar, an unemployed 49-year-old, after scrambling under barbed wire, wading through a mud trench and skirting burning tires with other volunteers.
"Venezuelans need to know how to be military people so that we can defend our fatherland and our president," Salazar says.
Oh, yes. Defend the fatherland and the fuehr- uh, president. The Bradenton Herald tells us about another of hugo's storm troopers.
Jorge Perez spends his Saturdays learning about first aid, firing automatic weapons and marching in formation alongside students, homemakers and the handicapped, often to good-natured shouts of "Yankees out!" and "Kill that gringo!"
The 39-year-old chauffeur, a self-professed patriot and partisan of President Hugo Chavez, said he joined Venezuela's new Territorial Guards volunteer militia to protect his homeland in case the United States "invades us like it did Grenada and Panama."
"I'm no Rambo or Terminator. I'm a Karate Kid who fights to defend family and neighbors," said Perez, an unabashed fan of Hollywood films. "But the United States thinks it's the Roman Empire and can conquer the world."
The militias are created under a law passed last fall that puts them directly under chavez's command - the are not part of the military chain of command. Another similarity to the SS. And, chavez has obviously listening to the US media.
"The United States went to war in Iraq over lies, and now it is telling lies about the Venezuelan government, so we must be prepared," said Chavez's national security adviser, Alberto Muller Rojas.
"An old Venezuelan saying is that when you see your neighbor's beard on fire, dampen yours so you don't burn up too," Muller said in an interview.
The article also references critics who say chavez plans to use the militias as fidel uses the Revolutionary Defense Committees - to control the populance. Others say he will use them to be sure he's reelected in the fall.