Puebla, Mexico, June 23, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reshuffled his cabinet Wednesday, appointing a veteran diplomat to the foreign ministry and a controversial military figure as chief of staff.
Amid with the cabinet changes, Maduro also effectively replaced his top military brass, moving four top commanders to different government positions. Among these was the head of the National Guard, General Antonio Benavides Torres who was moved to head the Capital District.
The reshuffle was prompted after a number of top government officials stepped down to participate in elections for the upcoming national constituent assembly. The assembly will have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
Among the most well known faces to leave the administration for the constituent assembly is Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who will be replaced by veteran diplomat Samuel Moncada. Known for his fiery speeches, Moncada has served as Venezuela’s representative to the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States since March.
He has also served as Venezuela’s United Nations ambassador and as head of the Presidential Commission for the Non-Aligned Movement.
“Along with having a good wit, he also speaks perfect English,” Maduro said.
Announcing the appointment, Maduro also heaped praise on the outgoing Rodriguez, who has garnered international headlines for her impassioned arguments at the OAS.
"Delcy Rodriguez truly deserves the recognition of the whole country because she has defended the sovereignty, peace, and independence of Venezuela,” Maduro said.
He continued, “Congratulations to comrade Delcy Rodriguez, mission accomplished.”
In another major change, Maduro also replaced his chief of staff, Carmen Melendez. As Melendez stands as a candidate to the constituent assembly, she will be replaced by the controversial Major General Carlos Osorio. During his tenure as food minister, the long time Maduro ally became the target of a wave of public outrage, when the government eased price controls on certain meats, cheeses and milk by around 20 percent. Then in 2016, the opposition controlled National Assembly demanded an investigation into Osorio’s time at the food ministry, including allegations of involvement in a scandal surrounding food imports. According to a complaint filed by the National Assembly’s Comptroller’s Office to the public prosecutor, over the course of a decade, at least US$27 billion in funding for food imports went missing under successive administrations, including during Osorio’s stint as food minister from 2010 to 2013.
Other changes to the cabinet include Nestor Ovalles replacing Francisco Torrealba as labour minister, while Major General Juan de Jesus Garcia Tusen will take over the Transport Ministry, and Admiral Orlando Maneiro will assume the role of fishing minister. Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez will also pick up the position of vice-president for national security, and Major General Luis Motta Domínguez will take over as vice-president for public works.
The reshuffle is the 6th round of major changes to Maduro’s governing team since he was elected in 2013, and comes as his country remains gripped by deep political and economic crisis.