VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping cabinet reshuffle and government shake-up on Wednesday.
Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz was replaced after just a year by Aragua state Governor Tareck el-Assaimi, from the reformist wing of the ruling United Socialist Party.
Mr Isturiz, a popular former teachers’ union leader whose appointment was seen as a hedge against a successful opposition-led presidential recall referendum campaign, will become minister for communities and social movements.
Mr Assaimi was tasked with focusing on public security and combating organised crime, the latter being important since gangs run the black market in food, fuel and currency that helped plunge the country into crisis.
“The top priorities will be the fight against criminals, the fight to clean up the national and regional police force and the fight against the terrorists in the extreme right wing,” Mr Maduro said.
Members of the US-backed Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) opposition have alleged that the new vice-president is involved in the drug trade, dubbing him “the narco of Aragua.”
But, as interior and justice minister from 2008 to 2012, he oversaw the capture of 75 drug barons wanted by Interpol.
Ramon Lobo, an MP, economist and university professor close to the Communist Party of Venezuela, will head the new Economy and Finance Ministry, a merger of the existing ministries of productive economy and industry and commerce.
Antonieta Caporale becomes health minister, with the special task of bolstering the hospital system and the distribution and supply of medicines — another target of the black marketeers.
Elias Jaua, known as a Trotskyist, becomes education minister, while the late Hugo Chavez’s elder brother Adan Chavez was appointed culture minister.
Mr Maduro said the “good, well-rounded and experienced team” would start work immediately as the Bolivarian revolution begun under president Chavez needed a “new efficient method” of governing.
He announced a programme for the last two years of his presidential term dubbed the Carabobo Campaign, after a key victory of the 19th-century colonial liberation war.
Venezuela’s social “missions” will be energised and strengthened, unfinished public works will be completed and 2017 will be declared the year of economic recovery.
Every minister will have to personally draft and submit a three-monthly report on progress towards their goals.
The government will meet business leaders on Monday, while military exercises will be held on January 14.
We need your support to keep running. If you like what you read please donate by clicking here