Venezuela to create new workers militia

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro arrives to attend President Rafael Correa's swearing-in ceremony in Quito, Ecuador, Friday, May 24, 2013. Correa is starting a third term as president. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's president has ordered the creation of a new workers' militia to defend the country's "Bolivarian revolution" at a time when the government faces economic problems and political turmoil.

President Nicolas Maduro gave few details about the militia, including how many members it would consist of, but said it would be part of the Bolivarian Militia created by late President Hugo Chavez, which consists of roughly 120,000 volunteers. Analysts have said only about one-fourth of that force is combat ready.

Maduro's announcement in a speech in Caracas late Wednesday got little attention in the Venezuelan media.

The president said he had ordered military leaders to "move forward as fast as possible in the establishment and organization of the Bolivarian Militias of Workers."

He urged the crowd to imagine the respect the working class would command if it had "300,000, 500,000, 1 million, 2 million uniformed workers, armed, prepared to defend the sovereignty of the homeland."

Critics have warned such militias could be used to cement the socialist government's hold on power.

Chavez, a former paratrooper who died in March, sought to incorporate the military into his political efforts to turn Venezuela into a socialist state. During his 14-year rule, he warned repeatedly of potential threats to the government, including what he alleged were conspiracies in the United States and Venezuela's opposition, which they denied.

Maduro, whom Chavez anointed as his successor, echoed those allegations as he announced the creation of the new militia.

"In this world where there still are empires who fight to control territory, riches and people, there is no respect for the weak," Maduro said. "Respect is given to those who have morale, to those who make themselves respected."

Maduro narrowly beat opposition leader Henrique Capriles in an April 14 election that Capriles has refused to accept, alleging Maduro stole the vote through fraud, voter intimidation and abuse of public resources.

The president also is under pressure to preserve unity within his own ranks, amid reports of an internal power struggle in the Chavista movement. Adding to his woes, the economy is faltering despite having vast oil resources, with soaring inflation and shortages of food and basic necessities, including toilet paper, testing the patience of citizens.

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