Mérida, March 4th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's President Chávez consolidated several state ministries and shuffled his cabinet Tuesday in an effort to "accelerate the administrative dynamic of the state to make it more efficient," according to an official statement released by the President.
As the world economic crisis shakes the globe and oil prices drop, Chávez has pledged to maintain his government's extensive social programs while making the necessary adjustments to keep the state apparatus working to construct "21st Century Socialism" as an alternative to capitalism in Venezuela.
The cabinet changes reflect Chávez's latest policy plans in the wake of last month's national referendum in which Venezuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment that will allow Chávez to run for re-election to a third presidential term after his current term ends in 2013.
Chávez merged the Housing Ministry and Infrastructure Ministry into one Ministry of Public Works and Housing, which will be headed up by Diosdado Cabello, Chávez's long-time confidant who lost his bid for governor of Miranda state on the socialist party ticket last November.
In another change, the Ministry of Science and Technology will now take on the responsibility of developing light industries, and the Ministry of Light Industries and Commerce will become the Ministry of Commerce.
The new minister of commerce is Eduardo Samán, the director of the national Institute for the Defense of People's Access to Goods and Services (INDEPABIS) who recently oversaw the government's administrative takeover of a private rice processing plant that was evading government price controls on basic foods by adding gourmet flavoring to 90% of its rice.
Chávez eliminated the Ministry of Participation and Social Protection and parceled out its responsibilities to two other ministries. The charge of social protection is now under the jurisdiction of the Health Ministry, newly titled the Ministry of Health and Social Protection. The task of promoting participation will now be added to the Communal Economy Ministry, which has been renamed the Ministry of Communes.
The former minister of participation and social protection, Erika Farías, is the new minister of communes. This ministry already has a full agenda, since Chávez announced the creation of several "socialist agrarian communes" in Aragua state last Sunday, with the purpose of building functional examples of new forms of social property and collective production in Venezuela.
In other minister replacements, María Cristina Iglesias, who ran the Labor Ministry during Chávez's first presidential term (1999-2006) and oversaw food price controls and the creation of state-run "socialist" factories as minister of light industries and commerce over the past two years, replaced Roberto Hernández as the minister of labor and social security.
Pedro Morejón, the former minister of communal economy, will now head up the Ministry of Tourism. This ministry will be responsible for implementing the new Organic Law on Tourism, which aims to transform the way tourism is practiced by replacing the values of capitalist tourism with "a new horizon of values where the collective is the axis of tourist management," and "recuperate the social fabric" by making tourism relate directly to the needs of the host community, according to the text of the law.
Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez, Finance Minister Alí Rodríguez, Agriculture and Land Minister Elías Jaua, Information and Communication Minister Jesse Chacón, and Environment Minister Yubirí Ortega remain in their posts, with their charges unaltered.
Vice President Ramón Carrizalez also remains in his post, but he will now take on the additional role of Defense Minister, replacing General Gustavo Rangel Briceño.
The change in the Defense Ministry follows a new law that Chávez passed last year using decree power granted to him for 18 months by the National Assembly. The law adds "Bolivarian" to the official title of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, in honor of independence hero Simón Bolívar. It also draws a line of separation between the administrative duties of the Defense Ministry and operational duties of military officers, and makes it so Chávez's orders as commander in chief go directly to the generals, with less administrative bureaucracy.
"The Defense Ministry will now become a completely administrative body, governed by the Organic Law on National Public Administration," said Carrizalez, a graduate of the Venezuelan Military Academy, upon becoming the new defense minister on Wednesday.