In 2008, the government of now-deceased President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela passed a law creating what is known as the Bolivarian militia (Milicia Bolivariana), a reserve force composed by civilian volunteers supplementing the ordinary branches of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana-FANB). The formation of the Bolivarian militia has sparked significant controversy in Venezuela and beyond, reflecting the polarization in the country between supporters and opponents of the governments of Chávez and his predecessor, Nicholas Maduro. Drawing on ethnographic research and interviews with militia members, this CMI Working Paper will analyze the ideological and political profile of the Bolivarian militia. Highlighting how class, gender, and political identities are cornerstones of the militia members’ allegiance to the force, this analysis helps enhance our understanding of why many ordinary citizens have voluntarily signed up for service. The Working Paper concludes that the Bolivarian militia must be understood in tandem with an analysis of broader political and cultural aspects of Venezuelan society in recent years, not least the accentuation of political polarization taking place during the past decades.

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