Venezuelan re-elected President Hugo Chavez dismissed Thursday his longtime confidant Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel and former Minister of Interior Jesse Chacón promising to complete his new cabinet by next Wednesday when he takes office for a six year mandate extending until 2013.
Chavez said the changes signal "a new fresh team" to re-power government and face full on the challenges of "the new era leading to Socialism". Although he was quick to point out that his Socialist model "has nothing to do with the proletariat dictatorship or nothing like it". "It's a totally democratic Socialist model". Rangel was replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, former chief of Venezuela's electoral board. Another close aide of Chavez, Rafael Ramirez was ratified in his dual offices as Minister of Energy and Petroleum and president of Petroleos de Venezuela, PDVSA government owned oil and gas monopoly. Congressman Pedro Carreño has been named to replace Jesse Chacon. The move is considered part of a wider Cabinet shake-up signaling that Chavez, re-elected by a wide margin last month, is seeking fresh blood in his inner circle while planning sweeping political reforms and apparently the founding of a single Socialist party. "It's always good to refresh the team sometimes" said Chavez in an interview with state television. "All of these changes are without a doubt to strengthen ... and begin this new struggle deeply ÃÂ¢€" these new struggles: corruption, bureaucracy, economic development on the path to socialism." Rodriguez, a 41-year-old psychiatrist, was president of the National Electoral Board from 2003 to 2006, and stepped down early last year. In that role, he had faced criticism from Chavez opponents who accused him of a pro-government bias even as he insisted he was nonpartisan. Rodriguez's family has a history of supporting the left. His father, also named Jorge Rodriguez, was a leader of the Socialist League party, which was linked to a waning Marxist rebel movement in the 1970s. He died in police custody in 1976, when activist leaders said he was tortured to death. Chavez described Rodriguez as "a man with great intelligence, great commitment to the truth, to honesty." New Interior minister Carreño is also a military officer as Chacón, and will have to give up his seat in Congress. He's a strong promoter of an only unified Socialist party bringing together all groupings that support President Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution. "The decision to relieve Jose Vicente was not easy for me because he's like one of those star pitchers," Chavez said, adding that he respects Rangel "like a son does a father." Chavez said he was especially thankful to Rangel for his unflinching loyalty during a 2002 coup. Rangel has also had the jobs of Defense and Foreign Affairs minister. Chavez last month publicly criticized Rangel and Chacon for their handling of a ceremony at the tomb of Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero revered by Chavez. Chavez complained of poor organization because the orchestra mixed Panama and Bolivia's national anthems, "one of the most shameful moments of my life". However analysts believe Chavez has leading responsibilities for his two outgoing close advisors, Rangel and Chacón, possibly the drafting of the constitutional reforms and the groundwork for the new unified Socialist party. Late Thursday another much expected announcement was made: Congressman Rodrigo Cabezas was appointed finance minister, replacing Nelson Merentes. Minister-designate Cabezas is likely to continue Chavez' policies of increased government spending to fuel growth, favoring debt sales in local rather than global markets at the expense of allowing inflation to quicken, economists said. ''There won't be significant changes in economic policy -- Cabezas comes from the same team, the same league'' said Luis Zambrano, a senior economist with Caracas-based Banco Mercantil CA. "It will be another term of high expenditures, a growing deficit and indebtedness''. Record oil income spurred a 56% jump in government spending in the first 10 months of last year, helping to quicken annual inflation to a 17-month high of 17% last month.