Updated: Sep 20
The Bolivarian Forces of Liberation (Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación - FBL), known locally as “los boliches”, are a militant leftist organisation based in the Apure state of Venezuela. The group was formed in 1986 and gained prominence in the 1990s following a series of attacks against corrupt officials. Allegedly, many members of the group are former affiliates of pro-government gangs called “colectivos” (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Currently, the group is known to operate along the Venezuelan-Colombian border, particularly in the states of Apure, Táchira, and Barinas (Insight Crime, 2023).
History & Foundations
The group was formed in 1986 due to a lack of left-wing influence within the Venezuelan political sphere. Following the election of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s first leftist president, the group vocally expressed their support for the new government and pledged support for the Bolivarian Revolution, which -- according to Chavez himself -- sought to develop an inter-American coalition in order to implement Bolivarian socialism (Bolivarianism) at a regional level, all while promoting nationalism and reinforcing a state-led economy. Years later, between 2005 to 2008, the group fractured due to issues regarding the morality of their financing, much of which came from extortion and kidnapping. The FBL integrated a group called the Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (Fuerzas Patrióticas de Liberación Nacional, FPLN), a militia that considered itself more focused on the original political vision of the group. As of today, the names FBL and FPLN are used interchangeably, and there no longer seems to be any divide within the group.
While the FBL is militant in nature, their recent successes are more notable in the field of politics, specifically in running in local elections and conducting activist work. That being said, it seems as though the group has abandoned all previous social media presence, with their official website having been inactive since June 2014 and their Twitter account having been recently suspended.
Objectives & Ideology
The FBL’s official ideology is Bolivarianism, a left-wing South American ideology characterized by its socialist and pan-hispanic ideals. The organization is also known to espouse nationalist and Marxist principles, many of which they promote on the local level through social work. After Hugo Chavez’s inauguration as the Venezuelan president in 1999, the group voiced their endorsement for him and his socialist agenda. Years after his death, however, the group grew disillusioned with his successor, Nicolás Maduro, and the subsequent path of the Bolivarian Revolution. The group cited Maduro’s policy of currency intervention as a betrayal of Chavez’s socialist legacy and accused him of collaborating with the oligarchy to taint the Bolivarian project (Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación, 2014). Additionally, the group has declared that members of the Venezuelan opposition are their military targets and vowed to destroy members of the Venezuelan “bourgeoisie” (ABC Color, 2013). Reportedly, the group also claims that their presence on the Colombian-Venezuelan border serves to repel a possible invasion by the United States (Barráez, 2019). Furthermore, the group has established close connections with various local agrarian and communal organizations, and is even credited with founding the Bolívar y Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), a local peasant activist group known for its social work (Insight Crime, 2023). As of today, the CRBZ is considered the face of the organization and the official legal and political entity of the FBL.
Approach to Resistance
Historically, the FBL’s military and militant operations have been relatively violent in nature. In September 1991, for instance, the group conducted a failed assassination attempt against Congressman Antonio Ríos and targeted the home of former Venezuelan President Jaime Lusinchi with an arson bomb. The following November, two FBL members stabbed the former director of the Venezuelan Social Security Institute, Pedro César Izquiel, to death (Reuter-EFE-AFP, 1992). These actions were part of what the FBL referred to as a campaign against corrupt officials (Insight Crime, 2023).
Later, in 2003, the group was suspected of being responsible for the C4 bombings of the Colombian and Spanish Embassy in Caracas after pamphlets signed by the FBL were allegedly found at the scene of the attacks. However, the FBL denied any involvement (Medina, 2003). Two years later, in 2005, it was reported that the group had over 4,000 members, most of whom were operating clandestinely in the state of Apure (Diaz, 2005). There has also been some level of controversy within the FBL’s approach to resistance, as the group was accused by a local priest of recruiting child soldiers into their ranks in 2011, another claim that the FBL denied (Marquez, 2012).
To fund and finance their activities, the group is known to impose taxes on illicit trade and illegal economies. This is similar to the ‘revolutionary taxes’ that other leftist militant organisations have imposed in the region. In addition, they reportedly extort locals and control several river crossings used to smuggle cattle and gasoline into Colombia (Insight Crime, 2023). The FBL is also known to engage in acts of political intimidation– in 2016 the group posted the following letter in front of an apartment building threatening residents to remove a rooftop billboard advocating for the freedom of opposition candidate Leopoldo López (RunRun.es, 2016).
The letter reads the following:
"The Bolivarian Liberation Forces require all the inhabitants of this building, within a term of 24 hours, which culminate at 08:00 hours on Sunday, February 28, 2018, to remove the billboard of the criminal Leopoldo Lopez that is located on the rooftop. Otherwise we will take other, more radical actions. With Bolivar we say - all power to the people! Here what failed was capitalism! Military civic popular unit! Socialism is the output!”.
More recently, the group assaulted an opposition mayoral candidate in Barinas State, threatening him with a 9mm pistol and an UZI (Barráez, 2021). Regarding weaponry, the group has been observed with an array of firearms in their YouTube videos which include M16-style assault rifles and submachine guns
While the exact size and structure of the group remain unknown, the identity of one of the main leaders of their military wing has been revealed as Jerónimo Paz, also known as El Flaco (Insight Crime, 2023) (Barráez, 2021).
Political Alliances & Opposition Movements
The group is known to share territory with Colombian rebel groups such as the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) in southwestern Venezuela. While relations with the FARC have remained cordial, the group has reportedly been at war with the ELN for years over territorial disputes (Barráez, 2022). Moreover, leaked files reveal that the group has also received logistical support and combat training from FARC dissidents, which has allowed the group to improve their military capabilities (Stone, 2011). According to InSight Crime, the group reportedly operates with impunity from local authorities, as several members of the group are government officials, one of whom is a member of the National Assembly and another who is the mayor of the Paéz municipality in Apure state.
In 2022, 50 armed ELN militants seized the town of La Gabarra, which was previously controlled by the FBL. The group responded by launching several military operations to recover their territory (Barráez, 2022). That same year, the Venezuelan military conducted raids on multiple properties owned by the group, during which vehicles and money were reportedly seized, and members of the group were arrested (Barráez, 2023). This led for the FBL to claim that they were being targeted by the Venezuelan government for their opposition to the ELN. Despite this, the FBL is still reported to operate with the covert tolerance of the Venezuelan government, and maintains close ties to local authorities and security forces (Human Rights Watch, 2020).
Works Cited (MLA-style)
ABC Color. “Guerrilla Chavista Amenaza Con La Muerte a Opositores Venezolanos - Internacionales - ABC Color.” ABC, 11 June 2013, www.abc.com.py/edicion-impresa/internacionales/guerrilla-chavista-amenaza-con-la-muerte-a-opositores-venezolanos-583317.html
Barráez, Sebastiana. “Así Entrena El Chavismo a Civiles En El Manejo de Armas En La Frontera Entre Venezuela y Colombia.” Infobae, 9 June 2019, www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2019/06/09/asi-entrenan-guerrilleros-chavistas-a-civiles-en-el-manejo-de-armas-en-la-frontera-entre-venezuela-y-colombia/
Barráez, Sebastiana. “El Brutal Ataque a UN Médico de Barinas, Venezuela: ‘Somos de La Guerrilla FBL y Usted No Puede Ser Candidato a La Alcaldía.’” Infobae, 6 Sept. 2021, www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2021/09/06/el-brutal-ataque-a-un-medico-de-barinas-venezuela-somos-de-la-guerrilla-fbl-y-usted-no-puede-ser-candidato-a-la-alcaldia/
Barráez, Sebastiana. “El Ejército Venezolano Se Moviliza Para Evitar El Enfrentamiento Del Eln Con La Guerrilla FBL.” Infobae, 18 Jan. 2022, www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2022/01/17/el-ejercito-venezolano-se-moviliza-para-evitar-el-enfrentamiento-del-eln-con-la-guerrilla-venezolana-fbl/
Barráez, Sebastiana. “La Guerrilla FBL Se Proclamaba Profundamente Chavista y Fue Atacada Por El Ejército Venezolano Por Ser Enemigas Del Eln.” Infobae, 19 Feb. 2023, www.infobae.com/venezuela/2023/02/19/las-fbl-se-proclamaban-profundamente-chavistas-y-fueron-atacadas-por-el-ejercito-venezolano-por-ser-enemigas-del-eln/
Barráez, Sebastiana. “Sigue La Tensión En Apure: 50 Hombres Del Eln Tomaron Un Pueblo y La Guerrilla Venezolana FBL Llamó a La Movilización Popular.” Infobae, 16 Jan. 2022, www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2022/01/16/sigue-la-tension-en-apure-50-hombres-del-eln-tomaron-un-pueblo-y-la-guerrilla-venezolana-fbl-llamo-a-la-movilizacion-popular/
Diaz, S. “ASEGURAN QUE 4 MIL HOMBRES DE LA FBL OPERAN EN EL ALTO APURE.” Eluniversal.Com, 19 July 2005, web.archive.org/web/20110718112406/www.eud.com/2005/07/19/pol_art_19104E.shtml
Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación. “FBL: En Miraflores Se Fragua Un Nuevo Pacto Contra El Pueblo Trabajador.” Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación, 29 Apr. 2014, fuerzasbolivarianasdeliberacion.blogspot.com/2014/04/fbl-en-miraflores-se-fragua-un-nuevo.html
Human Rights Watch. “‘The Guerrillas Are the Police.’” Human Rights Watch, 22 Jan. 2020, www.hrw.org/report/2020/01/22/guerrillas-are-police/social-control-and-abuses-armed-groups-colombias-arauca#_ftn262
InSight Crime. “FBL/FPLN.” InSight Crime, 12 July 2023, insightcrime.org/venezuela-organized-crime-news/fbl/
MEDINA, ISMAEL ENRIQUE. “No Volamos El Consulado.” El Tiempo, 2 Mar. 2003, www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-979005
Márquez, Humberto. “Violencia y Silencio Fronterizos.” Archive.Today, Inter Press Service, 11 July 2012, archive.ph/archive.ph
Reuter-EFE-AFP. “Nuevo Atentado En Venezuela.” El Tiempo, 12 Nov. 1992, www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-239433
Runrun.es. “Amenazan a Vecinos de Bello Monte Por Valla de Leopoldo López.” Runrun, 28 Feb. 2016, runrun.es/nacional/250638/amenazan-a-vecinos-de-bello-monte-por-valla-de-leopoldo-lopez/
Stone, Hannah. “FARC Computers Shine Spotlight on Chavez Militias.” InSight Crime, 12 May 2011, insightcrime.org/news/analysis/farc-computers-shine-spotlight-on-chavez-militias/