On 6 October 2009 the Venezuelan parliament passed a new law on conscription and recruitment, which replaces the law from 1978, which was no longer in line with the Bolivarian Constitution. While Venezuela's oppositional media mostly reported on "obligatory military service" in Venezuela, the real differences between the law from 1978 and the new law are elsewhere. However, it has to be noted that both - the old and the new law - in fact establish conscription - the new one for men and women - but in practice conscription has rarely been enforced in Venezuela in the past decades, as there are plenty of volunteers for military service. This is unlikely to change in the short term.
But it is important to note that in this respect the new law in fact does not comply with the Venezuelan Constitution. Article 134 of the Constitution reads: "Everyone, in accordance with law, has the duty to perform such civilian or military service as may be necessary for the defense, preservation and development of the country, or to deal with situations involving a public calamity. No one shall be subjected to forcible recruitment. (...)". However, article 6 of the 2009 law on conscription and recruitment states that all Venezuelans of military age (men and women) have the duty to perform military service in the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, and are subject to military training. Article 7 then states that no-one shall be subjected to forced recruitment. How these two articles can be reconciled is unclear, and it seems that article 7 is merely an acknowledgment of the constitutional provision banning forced recruitment.
The main changes of the new law are:
- The new law applies to men and women equally. While this is presented to the public as a victory of women's liberation, it introduces a range of new duties for women, such as - in theory - obligatory military service, and - in practice - the obligation to register with the military authorities and carry military documentation. It is in fact a militarisation of women's lives;
- The new law increases the military age to 60 years, while it had been 50 years according to the old law;
- The military documentation will become more important in everyday life. While both laws required military documentation in order to study or to obtain a driving licence, the new law also requires it for everyone working in public service. In addition, new obligations can be established by other "laws or regulations", leaving the door wide open to increased military control.
Generally, the new law strengthen the role of the military authorities and their control over the lives of Venezuelas citizens - male and female.
On the same day, the Venezuelan parliament also passed amendment to the Law on the Armed Forces, which strengthen the control of the President of the Bolivarian Republic over the Armed Forces, and fully integrate the volunteer militias into the command structure of the Armed Forces.
Sources: TalCualDigital.com: ¿Servicio militar obligatorio?, 15 October 2009; Ley de Conscripción y Alistamiento Militar, 6 October 2009; Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, 20 December 1999; BBC Mundo: Milicianos en la Fuerza Armada venezolana, 15 October 2009