Venezuela’s Chavez Names Vice-President, Ministers for New Term

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced yesterday that Jorge Rodríguez would replace José Vicente Rangel as his new Vice-president while Minister for Justice and the Interior Jesse Chacón is to be replaced by National Assembly Deputy Pedro Carreño.

Caracas, January 4, 2007 (— Venezuelan PresidentHugo Chávez announced yesterday that former Electoral Council president Jorge Rodríguez would replace José VicenteRangel as his new Vice-president while Minister for Justice and the InteriorJesse Chacón is to be replaced by National Assembly Deputy Pedro Carreño.

JorgeRodríguez is a former president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), who declineda renewed candidacy for the post in March last year, amid speculation that hewanted to give the embattled CNE a chance to start anew with a fresh slate ofdirectors. The National Assemblyelections of December 2005, where the main opposition parties withdrew, wereheld during his stewardship of the CNE.

The41 year-old Rodriguez has so far not held any post in the executive underChavez. He is the son of one of Venezuela’smore prominent left leaders, also named Jorge Rodriguez, who founded thepolitical party Socialist League and who died while in custody by state police in1976.

Chávezsaid that Rodriguez, along with other new ministers would be sworn in beforehis own inauguration on January 10.

Theend of Rangel’s role as Vice-President brings an end to a long and mutuallyloyal relationship which goes back to 1999 when he was Foreign Minister. After that he was Minister of Defense for ayear from 2001 – 2002, after which Chavez named him Vice-President of the Republic. Chávez said his relationship to Rangel is likethat of a son to a father. “The decision to relieve José Vicente was not easyfor me because he is like one of those star pitchers,” said Chávez.

Rangelis a long-time icon of Venezuela’sleft, who ran for president several times in the 1970’s and 1980’s, beforesupporting Chavez’s run for the presidency in 1998. It was not clear what Rangel would do when he leaves the Vice-Presidency. Chavez merely stated that he and the other departing ministers would continue to form part of his government.

Thereplacement of Interior Minister Jesse Chacón comes shortly after 16 peopledied and 13 people were injured in a prison riot. Chávez did not say whether that was thereason for the removal of Chácon, but did not express the same regret he saidhe felt in relation to the Rangel’s removal. He merely said that the changes were necessary to “refresh” thegovernment so they could move on to the next stage, which he said was to fight,“bureaucracy, corruption and inefficiency.”

Chávezalso said that Rafael Ramírez would remain as Minister for Energy and Oil aswell as President of PDVSA, the state petroleum company. Ramírez was criticized by the oppositionduring the election for reportedly politicizing PDVSA when he urged uppermanagement of the oil company to unequivocally support the government’spolicies. Chavez praised Ramirez’s stand, though, that PDVSA was now “Red, deepRed,” in reference to his movement’s color.

Finally, Finance Minister Nelson Merentes announced hewill be vacating his position and will be replaced by Rodrigo Cabezas, who hasbeen a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly since 1993.