Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez shuffles Cabinet ahead of September’s key congressional elections

By Fabiola Sanchez, AP
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chavez shuffles Cabinet ahead of elections

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez shuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday as his government grapples with numerous domestic ills and his governing party prepares for crucial congressional elections.

Nine top ranking officials were appointed. Most of the outgoing Cabinet members have been selected as ruling party candidates for September’s vote and are some of the socialist leader’s closest collaborators, including Diosdado Cabello, Erika Faria, Hector Navarro and Luis Reyes.

Francisco Garces Da Silva, formerly the director of Venezuela’s seismological agency, will replace Cabello as the minister of transportation and communication, while Isis Ochoa replaces Faria as the minister of communes and social protection.

Eugenia Sader, a deputy health minister and military officer, takes over from Reyes as the chief of the Health Ministry, and Jennifer Gil replaces Navarro as education minister. Mauricio Rodriguez will take over as information minister, replacing Tania Diaz.

Chavez generally overhauls his Cabinet once a year, usually moving close political allies from one ministry to another while handpicking others from the military or state institutions.

The president made the latest changes as his government struggles with a scandal involving decomposition of more than 22,000 tons (20,000 metric tons) of food inside a port and attempts to remedy numerous domestic problems, including soaring inflation, a severe housing shortage and rampant violent crime.

On Wednesday, Chavez put his vice president in charge of a state-run food distribution and sales company that has been at the center of the rotten food scandal. The company was previously managed by Venezuela’s state oil company.

Critics of Chavez, including leaders of Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church, have said the decomposed food is an example of government mismanagement.

Opposition leaders contend the oil company’s president, Rafael Ramirez, should face criminal charges for the rotten food, but government officials blame the problem on private businesses that they say were responsible for importing and storing the food.

The president’s party is gearing up the Sept. 26 elections. Chavez has called the vote one of the most important of his political career, warning supporters that an opposition victory could allow opponents to derail his drive toward socialism.

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