Despite Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez' defense spending spree, fueled by soaring oil prices, the Venezuelan Armed Force appear to be deteriorating at a rapid rate. The key problems for the Armed Forces are that Chavez' money is not going to the regular forces. Most of the money is being spent to train and equip his "Bolivarian Militia," which is expected to eventually number some two million personnel for irregular operations and regime protection. A secondary problem is that Chavez is insisting that the regular armed forces adopt "Bolivarian" principles of strategy and tactics, though these are pretty hazily defined and have never actually been subject to field tests.
Reportedly fewer than half the ships in the Navy are able to get underway, and none are combat ready by any measure. When asked by Brazil to take part in a combined exercise this coming September, the Venezuelan Navy replied that it would be unable to do so due to equipment and maintenance shortfalls, and a lack of fuel.
While Air Force readiness appears to be better (Chavez is an Air Force man), its ability to conduct more than token operations is debatable. Even the Coast Guard is feeling the pinch, and has had to lay up some vessels and close some bases, which is having a deleterious effect on anti-drug and anti-smuggling operations.
On the ground, the best troops are a handful of battalions of "special operations" personnel and some of the marine battalions. The bulk of the Army and Marines may retain some flexibility, and would probably be able to conduct defensive operations against convention forces or support guerrilla operations. The new Bolivarian Militia is likely to be useless.
Meanwhile, in a surprisingly public admission of a problem, the Inspector General of the Armed Forces, Major General. Guillermo Rangel, issued a report that claimed about $8 million was disappearing each month through graft, with senior officers taking the pay for "phantom soldiers," bogus procurement contracts, and the like. Rangel's report actually named Army Commander in Chief Raúl Baduel as one of the culprits, alleging that Baduel himself is raking off some $3 million a month himself. Both Rangel and Baduel are staunch Chevez supporters, and Rangel's report may be a political move Rangel is rumored to want the post of Army chief-of-staff.
Chavez appears to have some serious attention span issues. When faced with an issue that demands a hard decision, and quickly, Chavez tends to charge off to deal with another, often unrelated, matter. For example, instead of taking care of serious problems with military readiness, Chavez has been meddling in Peru's presidential elections. The first round, in January, resulted in the need for a run-off between leftist Ollanta Humala and the more conservative Alan García scheduled for early June. Already condemned by many political and cultural figures in Peru for his open backing of Humala during the January balloting, Chavez recently upped his rhetoric, even threatening to break diplomatic relations with Peru should García win. As a result, many prominent leftist Peruvians have been telling him to mind his own business, and Humala has publicly distanced himself from any association with Chavez.