Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro announced on Twitter the appointment of Bolivarian Army Colonel Pedro Rafael Tellechea Ruíz as the new oil minister, replacing Tareck El Aissami, one of the regime’s most effective operators, following his resignation.
“It is already a military hegemony. This rearrangement of officials is to diminish the noises that have been generated in recent times with powerful economic groups within the regime,” Daniel Varnagy, a political science scholar at Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar University, told Diálogo on April 29. “It is a rotation of power of ruling economic groups to ensure the regime’s tenure.”
In short, a military elite of individuals with enormous political power who have never been in operational positions is being consolidated, and who occupy the regime’s most important ministerial positions, the Venezuelan civil organization Control Ciudadano (CC) told the press. This year’s appointments of the last three military ministers corroborate the CC’s claim.
“Teamwork is a sure victory!” Col. Tellechea says on his Twitter biography. His appointment came amid an investigation into corruption and misuse of funds in Venezuela’s oil industry, Bloomberg reported. Col. Tellechea is also president of state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
This appointment increases by 42 percent military personnel’s participation in the Maduro regime’s ministerial cabinet, the CC reported, with six from the army, three from the navy, three from the national guard, and two from the air force.
After resorting to dozens of little-known intermediaries three years ago to export its oil under U.S. sanctions, PDVSA has accumulated $21.2 billion in accounts receivable, Reuters reported.
El Aissami’s resignation, which he said via Twitter was to aid investigations into corruption, closely followed the arrest of his right-hand man and other allies on corruption charges, which, according to InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America, seems to indicate a political power play rather than a genuine attempt to uproot corruption. El Aissami is among the United States’ most wanted for narcotrafficking.
It all answers to “a political confrontation between very powerful elements of Maduro’s leadership. El Aissami would have used PDVSA’s resources to strengthen his wide structure, which includes governors, judges, deputies, and military,” Rafael Ramírez, former minister under Hugo Chávez told Argentine news site Infobae.
Corruption at the highest levels and ties to organized crime are not only commonplace in Venezuela, they are an inherent feature of the Maduro regime dictatorship headed by Maduro, Vanargy said. “The idea is to lessen international pressures, and this meets that objective.”
Opening more doors
“As a result of the new ministerial designation, Venezuela could open more doors to Russia, Iran, and China for military, technological, and cultural developments,”Varnagy said. “Since the beginning of the Bolivarian project, Venezuela has been associated with authoritarian empires.”
In addition, they look to Caracas for “relief from the economic sanctions” imposed by the United States, he said. While Iran and Russia increase their cooperation in the energy field with PDVSA to boost oil production, China receives millions of barrels of Venezuelan oil to compensate for Caracas’ debt.
Venezuelan territory also represents important interests for these countries, not only because of its natural resources but also because of its proximity to the United States, Canada, and some Latin American countries, Varnagy added.
The Beijing-Moscow-Tehran axis seeks to expand its area of influence and develop broad lines of relations with Latin America through economic, political, and cultural ties, Brazil’s Instituto Humanistas Unisinos (Unisinos Humanist Institute) indicated in a report.
Venezuela’s role has been essential as a gateway for these nations that seek to remake the international order to create a world conducive to their kind of autocracy, German news agency DW reported for its part.
An Iranian delegation headed by Oil Minister Javad Owji arrived in Caracas on April 11 to visit PDVSA’s facilities, with the aim of strengthening energy relations, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry indicated.
According to Varnagy, “there is great hope, however, in the countries less aligned with Venezuela, Iran, China, and Russia, to avoid the [military, political, economic, and cultural] actions of these countries in the Western hemisphere,” Varnagy said.
Most of the countries in Latin America “have a very entrenched Western culture […]. They are the great allies of the values of democracy and freedom and faithful followers of Western culture and education,” he added.
“Politics is a pendulum, but culture is a pyramid. It’s much easier to move the pendulum than to move a pyramid,” Varnagy concluded. “That’s why Latin American countries must continue to counterbalance Western culture and education.”