The Bolivarian Circles (Spanish: Círculos bolivarianos) are a loosely-knit political and social organization of workers' councils in Venezuela originally begun by President Hugo Chávez in 2001. The circles have also been described as militias and compared to Cuba's Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and Panama's Dignity Battalions. They are named in honor of Simón Bolívar, the leader who transformed most of South America from Spanish colonial outposts to the independent states now in place. Since then the government has sponsored the creation of Community Planning Councils, which evolved into the Communal Councils.
In April 2001, President Hugo Chávez tasked then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello and Miguel Rodríguez Torres to create and finance community organizations that would share local interests to Chávez so his government could lend resources and gain political support. Such support from the government made Chávez's opponents skeptical of any claims of autonomy. The circles were made as state-sanctioned groups that were to be the "principle organizing unit of popular power" and were announced by Chávez as "a great human network" that was created to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. Some circles were modeled after the Dignity Battalions that were created by Omar Torríjos and Manuel Noriega in Panama since Chávez admired the model when stationed there during his military career. The founding documents of Venezuela's Bolivarian Circles state that "the Supreme leader of Bolivarian Circles will be the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and that "the national and international headquarters for the registration of Bolivarian Circles will be the Palace of Miraflores".
Many of the Bolivarian Circles were given combat training and weapons, with some of their leaders being trained in Cuba. According to Lina Ron, a Chávez supporter and head of her own Bolivarian Circle, La Piedrita, thousands of circles deeply loyal to Chávez were "armed to the teeth". Chávez denied allegations of funding and the circles use of weapons.
In January 2002, Bolivarian Circles were reported to have blocked the entrance of the newspaper office El Nacional for over an hour. Numerous journalists have been threatened, berated, and abused physically and verbally, particularly by people that identified with the Bolivarian Circles.
Bolivian Circles also took part in demonstrations which that became violent against the 2002 coup attempt. Shortly after the coup attempt in a May 2002 cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, there were concerned reports of members of Bolivarian Circles receiving new motorcycles, Nike brand clothing and that members of the Bolivarian Circles became armed, causing panic in neighborhoods. Numbers of Bolivarian Circles also increased significantly that month according to Diosdado Cabello, with number rising from 80,000 to 130,000.
A study by two Brigham Young University scholars stated that Bolivarian circles embodied democratic values, in addition to "a charismatic mode of linkage to Chávez"; they performed valuable social work, but also often reinforced "clientelistic relations between Chávez and the voters, and they did not significantly enhance the level of pluralism in the broader civil society."
Pro-Chávez Bolivarian circles exist in other countries and are widespread in Europe, North America, and Australia.
In a June 2014 publication by the Center for a Secure Free Society, it was stated that even though some Bolivarian Circles in Canada had disbanded, some are growing and they are even attempting to merge with the UK-based Hands Off Venezuela group. During the 2014 Venezuelan protests, circles in Canada protested in the streets and near embassies to show support for the Venezuelan government.
In the United States, there were about 15 Bolivarian Circles throughout the United States in 2005. In an article by The Miami Herald, the circles were present in cities such as Cincinnati, Boston, Miami, Salt Lake City, Knoxville and Milwaukee, with the largest organization in Miami having about 185 members.
In 2001, Chávez swore in all official Bolivarian Circles at the first national reunion under the following oath, which was adapted from Bolívar's own oath on the hill of Monte Sacro in 1805:
I swear in front of you, for the God of my parents; I swear for them. I swear for my honor and for my motherland that I will not rest my arms nor my soul until we have broken, finally, the chains that oppress Venezuela as an inheritance of the powerful who destroyed the motherland. I swear that I will completely dedicate my work to the Bolivarian ideology, to the popular organization, to popular mobilization, to popular power, to never abandon the struggle; every day and every night that I have left with the Bolivarian circles in the Bolivarian web, in the Bolivarian current, in the Bolivarian forces and in the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement 200 that today is born again after 19 years, by the will of the Venezuelan people. I swear that I will fight without rest for the defense of the revolution, even if I have to sacrifice my life, for the glory of Venezuela. I swear that we will consolidate forever the Bolivarian revolution and the motherland of our children. I swear.
- "Venezuela: Armed Bolivarian Circles". Stratfor. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Yergin, Daniel (2012). The Quest : energy, security and the remaking of the modern world (revised & updated ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0143121944.
- Morsbach, Greg. (BBC, 12 Jun 2002). "Chavez accused of fostering militia links". Retrieved 13 Jun 2006.
- Nelson, Brian A. (2012). The silence and the scorpion : the coup against Chávez and the making of modern Venezuela. New York: Nation Books. p. 16. ISBN 9781568586861.
- http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.htm?tbl=RSDCOI&page=research&id=3dec9b4b4 UNHCR
- "Venezuela's Pro-Government Activists Play a Role in Protest Violence". Stratfor. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Henderson, Victoria L.; Humire, Joseph M.; Menendez, Fernando D. "Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Security Threat of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba" (PDF). Center for a Secure Free Society. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- Nichols, Elizabeth Gackstetter; Morse, Kimberly J.. (2010). Venezuela. ABC-CLIO. pp. 219–. ISBN 978-1-59884-569-3. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- "AREPA 14" (PDF). United States Department of State. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
- Elner, Steve; Rosen, Fred. "Crisis in Venezuela: The Remarkable Fall and Rise of Hugo Chávez (Coup, Chaos or Misunderstanding?)". North American Congress on Latin America. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Dependent Civil: Society: The Círculos Bolivarianos in Venezuela, Kirk A. Hawkins Brigham Young UniversityDavid R. Hansen Brigham Young University found at, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/latin_american_research_review/v041/41.1hawkins.html Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: 16 Jun 2006. p. A1.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-19. Bolivarian Circles in Australia
- Bachelet, Pablo (21 November 2005). "Chávez builds base with grass-roots circles in U.S.". The Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 25 November 2005. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
- http://www.bauleros.org/TEMAS/PAISES/ARGENTINA/2001-12-21_emancipacion.html. A version of Bolívar's oath had also been used by Chávez at the foundation of the "Ejército de Liberación del Pueblo de Venezuela" on 17 December 1982. See http://elies.rediris.es/elies27/APONTE_MORENO_FINAL_THESIS.pdf.