Anyone that thinks they understand the sudden moves made by Nicolas Maduro during the last few weeks, should wait a while, because I don’t think the full picture is clear yet. What I do think is clear is two things: Maduro is not happy the way things are going, he knows his Government is not working well and the importance of Nelson Merentes has been substantially diminished.
In fact, Merentes’ slide seemed to begin earlier than two days ago, when in a puzzling move, Maduro failed to include him in his bombastically-named “Organo Supeiror para la Defensa de la Economia (OSDE)” , which was created on the last day of September and is presided by a General, whose power has been increasing, but despite its name, failed to include Merentes. This discrepancy was noted at the time, but nobody knew exactly what it really meant.
Merentes is clearly paying for his lack of accomplishments. The man that was supposed to be the “pragmatic” member of Maduro’s Caibent, was not energetic enough to push his agenda and the more ideologically minded members of the Cabinet managed to slow down all of his initiatives and Merentes has essentially nothing to show for his almost six months in the Ministry of Finance.
The second sudden move, was the removal of Maduro’s confidant Temir Porras from both the development bank Bandes and the development fund Fonden. Porras was a new figure in the economic side of the Government and had been reported to be Maduro’s sounding board on economic and financial matters. But faster that you could say Temir, he was pushed out last week with no explanation. And there is still no clear idea of what happened there, even if some suggests that Porras was removed due to Maduro’s displeasure with the French intelligent services pulling off the operation that allowed them to catch the drug in the Air France plane. Reportedly Porras’ inability to know about this forced him out. Others suggest that Porras’ team convinced Maduro that the Chinese would lend him the US$ 5 billion in cash, which did not happen.
Then this week, Merentes was removed as Vice President for the Economy, a position that is now occupied by the Minister f Energy and Mines and President of PDVSA Rafael Ramirez. This position is not that important, but there is a “Revolutionary” Cabinet above the crowded Cabinet, which is composed of six Vice Presidents. This supra-Cabinet meets more often with Maduro and is supposed to have a coordinating role.
It turns out that Ramirez was already part of this supra-Cabinet, so whether it has a meaning or not that he replaces Merentes is not that clear. Ramirez was previously the Vice President for Territorial Development, a position now occupied by General Hebert Garcia (More on him later)
Ramirez being the new Vice-President for the Economy may not be so bad as many think. He is considered to be part of the more ideological and radical branch of the Government, but he has shown in the past that he can be quite pragmatic. In fact, the only area where there have been some positive signs since Maduro took over has been in PDVSA’s flexibility, which has been led by Ramirez. Ramirez may actually be more capable of convincing the radicals that some change is needed.
The problem is that Ramirez is no economist and the change needed is more than a foreign exchange system, like Merentes seemed to think. What is needed is a larger adjustment of the economy and its variables, before distortions gets further out of hand. Ramirez will certainly not deliver that.
Caracas is full of rumors and among them, the possibility that Ramirez may also be moved sideways is one of them. PDVSA is where the money is and some Madurista groups may be trying to get closer to the honey pot and the Royal Family having a bigger influence there.
As for General Hebert Garcia, he now occupies three positions, the one in the supra-Cabinet, the President of Mision Vivienda and the President of OSDE, signifying that Maduro trusts him and he is the point military man to organize the economy and reduce shortages and build housing. Sounds like a tall order for a single person, let alone a Venezuelan General. But as PMB comments today, there seems to be this belief in Chavista circles that the military can organize things despite fifteen years of proving the contrary.
So, stay tuned, Maduro may yet make other moves pronto, which will allow us to better understand the ones he has made, excluding how he fell from that bicycle.