Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro

Caracas: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has replaced Rafael Ramirez as head of the country’s state oil giant PDVSA and appointed him as foreign minister.

Ramirez, who held the post for a decade, was also relieved of his role as the oil minister and vice president for economic policy yesterday, to become — in addition to top diplomat — political vice president.

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves and PDVSA is the world’s fifth largest oil company, but the Latin American country is facing a growing economic crisis.

Ramirez, 51, will take over as foreign minister from Elias Jaua, Maduro said in a three-hour speech broadcast on state television and radio.

The new president of PDVSA is Eulogio del Pino.

Venezuela is facing a soaring budget deficit and annual inflation that stood at 60 per cent when the government stopped releasing the figure two months ago. It has also seen chronic shortages of everyday items, including toilet paper.

Analysts had expected Maduro to announce reforms along the lines of those advocated by Ramirez, including ending the policy of multiple-tiered official exchange rates and raising the price of gasoline.

Instead, Maduro announced the cabinet shake-up, which also sent Jaua to be the liaison with local governments,merged some government structures and removed other cabinet members.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the cabinet changes did nothing to address the causes of Venezuela’s economic woes and rampant street crime.

“So for now the crisis can only worsen,” added Luis Vicente Leon of the polling firm Datanalisis.

In fact, markets had reacted negatively earlier to rumours that Maduro would not announce any concrete measures to address economic problems and would only reshuffle ministers.

Venezuelan state bond prices fell about two percent, for instance.

PDVSA provides 96 per cent of Venezuela’s hard currency. The country imports nearly all of what it consumes.

Ramirez, who was considered one of the people with most influence in the government and had strong contacts in the worlds of finance and oil, had been advocating changes in the economic policy inherited from the late Hugo Chavez, known as “21st century socialism.” Chavez died of cancer last year.

Ramirez wanted to raise gasoline prices in a country where a bottle of water costs more than filling up the gas tank of a car.

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