Global Insight Perspective
Just a few weeks after his landslide re-election triumph, President Hugo Chavez has conducted the first preliminary modifications to his Cabinet, naming a new vice-president and a new Interior and Justice minister.
The minor shuffle, expected to be followed by other changes, sees the replacement of presidential right-hand men with essentially more of the same.
The ministerial changes, part of a traditional post-electoral manoeuvre, also fall within the goal of giving new impetus to the governmental team in the furthering of President Chavez’s "Socialism of the 21st Century" in the looming 2007-2013 term.
President Hugo Chavez yesterday carried out his first ministerial changes ahead of his formal investiture for the 2007-2013 term. In a telephone interview broadcast on the "Contragolpe" (counter-coup) programme of the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión channel, Chavez revealed that Vice-President Vicente Rangel, a staunch vocal ally, will be replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, while legislator Pedro Carreño will take over from Jesse Chacon as the Interior and Justice Minister. The president also confirmed that Rafael Ramírez will remain both the head of the state-run oil company PDVSA and Energy Minister. He also warned of other modifications to his Cabinet that will take place prior to 10 January, the date on which he will once again be sworn in as the country’s president in front of the National Assembly (AN). Rangel and Chacon will also likely be assigned new posts in the very short term.
New Post, Old Faces and Other Right-Hand Men
Exiting vice-president José Vicente Rangel has been a constant element in Chavez’s government since 1999, switching from key post to key post: Foreign Affairs, Defence Ministry, and ultimately Vice-Presidency. He has been vehement and vocal in his defence of the Chavez governments and the Bolivarian Revolution. His departure is surprising, given his closeness to the leader. Chavez himself in the interview stressed the tricky nature of the decision. However, it is not out of the question that that the 76-year-old will be assigned to a new post where his expertise and loyalty will be needed. His replacement, Jorge Rodriguez, is also a close ally of Chavez's. He is known in Venezuela for his work as president of the National Electoral Council (CNE). In particular he managed the heated recall referendum and the 2005 legislative election that was boycotted by the opposition. Under his leadership, the CNE was the target of major criticism from the opposition, who saw it as being pliable to Chavez's will. In the opposition's eyes, Rodriguez was seen in many ways as partly embodying the CNE's failings (see Venezuela: 29 March 2006: Election 2006: CNE President Resigns to Avoid Another Boycotted Vote in Venezuela). Rodriguez's allegiance to Chavez cannot be questioned. The president expressed confidence in the commitment of the new vice-president to helping in the challenges set for 2007-2013, such as the reduction of corruption and the streamlining of bureaucracy.
Changes in the leadership of the Interior and Justice Ministry will see one right-hand man replace another. Military man Jesse Chacon is to be replaced by a legislator for Chavez’s Movement of the Fifth Republic (MVR). Pedro Carreño has previously held the vice-presidency of the AN and other leading commissions.
Outlook and Implications
By removing Chacon from the Interior and Justice Ministry, Chavez is certainly trying to breathe new life into the portfolio. High-profile tragic events punctuated the security landscape under Chacon’s management (see Venezuela: 3 January 2007: Gang Infighting Shakes Venezuelan Jail and Venezuela: 6 April 2006: Security Reform Announced in Venezuela, Sparked by High-Profile Murder Cases). While Chavez’s regime has not translated into a critical deterioration of general public security in the country, it has definitely failed to improve a strikingly insecure backdrop. Carreño will face the difficult task of living up to great popular expectation in the arena. Rangel’s surprise exit from the vice-presidency could well be followed by an appointment to another pivotal position. In any case the politician will remain close to Chavez’s political circle, and the strong ties between the two will not be affected by the reshuffle. Rodriguez’s rise to the vice-presidency is set to ignite criticisms from the opposition and herald possible complicated interaction with it, due to their thorny relations in the past.