Caracas, January 7, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro unveiled changes to his cabinet on Wednesday, which include a new vice-president as well as a mix of old and new faces in top executive positions.
In addition to a number of returning veterans and holdovers from the previous cabinet, the new team will also feature several individuals who will be occupying cabinet positions for the first time, such as the new economy minister, Luis Salas.
Aristóbulo Istúriz Tapped as New Executive Vice-President
In a surprise move, Maduro removed Jorge Arreaza from helm of the vice-presidency and appointed long time leftist leader and Chávez ally Aristóbulo Istúriz.
A leader of the radical grassroots movement turned political party known as the Radical Cause (LCR), Istúriz was elected as mayor of Caracas in an upset victory in 1992 that challenged the foundations of Venezuela’s two-party system and paved the way for Chávez’s victory in 1998.
As an staunch opponent of the neoliberal Fourth Republic and a defender of Chávez’s 1992 failed military uprising, Istúriz became a protagonist in the Bolivarian Revolution from the outset, serving as a delegate to the country’s constituent assembly in 1999.
He went on to occupy various other posts in the Bolivarian government, most notably as minister of education from 2001 to 2007, where he led efforts to make Venezuela a “territory free of illiteracy”.
Leftist Political Economy Professor to Head Economic Team
In another unanticipated decision, Maduro handed the country’s top economic post to Luis Salas, who will serve as vice-president in area of economy as well as minister of the newly created Ministry of Productive Economy.
Salas, a 39-year-old sociologist and political economist currently teaching political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, has called on the government to adopt an “active and offensive” posture in confronting the country’s deep economic crisis, “avoiding the false positives of announcing measures that are not ultimately taken.”
The left-leaning economist has previously outlined a number of policy proposals, including pegging worker salaries to profit rates, creating real enforcement mechanisms for the country’s price controls, strengthening public production and retail networks via cooperatives and socially productive enterprises, as well as promoting industrialization by “democratizing and diversifying production”.
While Salas has yet to present his definitive policy agenda, his appointment has set off alarm bells in the international press, which has already branded him a “socialist hardliner” for his support for price and currency exchange controls.
Salas will lead the newly created Ministry of Productive Economy that was split from Banking and Finance Ministry, which will now be headed by Rudolfo Medina, an economics professor and former head of the National Budget Office.
Also serving on Salas’ team is economist and former legislator Jesus Faría, who will lead the newly established Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, and ex-businessman Miguel Pérez Abad, who will take over as minister of industry and commerce.
Meanwhile, former economic vice-president and finance minister Rodolfo Marco Torres will become the new nutrition minister.
A Mix of Old and New
Maduro’s new cabinet will feature several other fresh faces in addition to a number of holdovers.
Luis Marcano, a young journalist and director of Venezuela’s state television channel VTV, was designated minister of communication and information.
The Ministry of Health will be headed by Luisana Melo, a surgeon with extensive experience in health administration, who has, nonetheless, never served in a cabinet position.
Former executive vice-president Jorge Arreaza will be given the post of minister of university education, science, and technology and will serve as vice-president in the area of social programs.
Delcy Rodriguez, Padrino Lopez, Gonzalez Lopez, and Ricardo Menendez will continue in their respective posts as ministers of foreign relations, defense, the interior, justice and peace, and planning.