Mérida, 22nd April 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – President Nicolas Maduro appointed new faces to over half of cabinet positions, though ministers with a number of key portfolios, including defence, foreign affairs, petroleum and information will stay on for another term.
“[This is] a great team of men and women,” Maduro told the media last night. Describing his government as starting “with its lead foot”, Maduro stated that he intends to head a “period of development and growth”.
The announcement came after a tweet in which Maduro described his new government as aiming to “achieve socialist efficiency”.
The largest change to the new cabinet is the splitting of the Ministry of Finance and Planning into two separate bodies.
Former head of the Central Bank, Nelson Merentes has taken up the new position of Finance Minister, as well as Vice President of Economics. Previous Minister of Finance and Planning Jorge Giordani will stay on, but only as Minister of Planning, a position he has held for nearly the entire Chávez presidency.
Reuters described Merentes as being more “pragmatic” than Giordani, and is “uncomfortable” with current currency exchange regulations. Merentes held the old portfolio twice under former president Hugo Chavez.
During his time as Minister of Finance and Planning, Giordani was a strong advocate for currency and price controls.
Maduro said he has “great confidence” in Merentes, but indicated that he will be expected to “achieve single digit inflation” within three years.
“We have to lower inflation...[and] we must control speculative factors,” Maduro stated.
Maduro stated that his new Minister of Interior and Justice is expected to address Venezuela's internal security problems with “an iron fist”.
Former director of the nation's intelligence service (SEBIN) General Miguel Rodriguez Torres has taken over the portfolio, while his predecessor General Nestor Luis Reverol, has been moved to head the National Anti-Drug Office.
Some of the 17 new ministers are well known in Venezuela for their work outside the political arena.
One is the founder of the Caracas Children's Cardiology Hospital Dr. Gilberto Rodríguez, who has been tapped to head the Ministry of Health. Established in 2006, the hospital provides free treatment for heart problems to children from all over Latin America.
In another high profile appointment, Olympian athlete Alejandra Benitez will take over the position of Sports Minister. Benitez represented Venezuela in fencing at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The portfolio of Women and Gender Equality is also changing hands, with the appointment of Andreína Tarazón. Tarazón was a delegate in the 2006-7 XI Congress of the International Democratic Federation of Women, and has been involved in the literacy project, Mission Robinson I.
De facto opposition leader Henrique Capriles criticised the new cabinet, describing Maduro's selection over Twitter as “more of the same”.
He also hit out at Maduro's decision to keep Diego Molero as Minister of Defence. Citing anonymous internal sources, he said that key officials within the armed forces were dissatisfied with Molero's performance during his last term in the job.
“I’ve received many messages of distress from our FANB [armed forces] because of the ratification [of Molero]”, Capriles tweeted.
Molero has previously been described by some observers as one of Chavez's most loyal generals. When he was appointed to his new position, Molero tweeted, “NicolasMaduro[sic] I appreciate your trust and I reiterate my commitment to the country and to the legacy of...[Chavez].”
Criticism from the opposition didn't stop many Venezuelans from tweeting their approval of the new cabinet.
VTV received “hundreds” of tweets supporting Maduro's appointees, including “congratulations to the team... perfect combination,” and “...let it be known that our resolution is to be free, sovereign, independent and happy.”
The new cabinet met for the first time this afternoon.