* Maduro moves Giordani to planning ministry
* Oil minister Ramirez confirmed in his role
* Maduro sworn-in Friday as Chavez's successor
By Daniel Wallis and Mario Naranjo
CARACAS, April 21 President Nicolas Maduro
replaced Venezuelan Finance Minister Jorge Giordani on Sunday,
appointing central bank chief Nelson Merentes in his place two
days after being sworn in as the late Hugo Chavez's successor.
It will be the third stint as finance minister for Merentes,
a mathematician by training who is seen as a more pragmatic
economist than his ideologically driven counterpart Giordani, a
Marxist academic who was nicknamed "the Monk."
"I've great faith in Nelson Merentes. We've known each other
for many years," Maduro said in a nationally televised address.
In his speech, he also confirmed Oil Minister Rafael
Ramirez, Defense Minister Diego Molero, Foreign Minister Elias
Jaua and Vice President Jorge Arreaza in their current roles.
Merentes faces private sector complaints about lack of
access to hard currency, persistent shortages of basic goods
from flour to medicines, slowing growth, and one of the highest
inflation rates in the Americas.
Consumer prices rose 7.9 percent in the first three months
of 2013 alone, the central bank said last week.
"We need to control inflation, the speculative factors that
influence prices, ensure that there are more domestic products,
and an economy that can move," Maduro said.
The economy grew 5.6 percent in 2012, but most private
economists expect that to slow this year as the government pares
back after heavy state spending last year that was a key driver
of the economy and helped the ailing Chavez win re-election.
Meanwhile, annual inflation may head toward 30 percent thanks
to a currency devaluation and expanding money supply.
Giordani, who had been finance minister since 2008, was seen
as one of the architects of the OPEC nation's complicated system
of price and currency controls.
He will now become planning minister, a senior position in
the economic Cabinet that Giordani held on and off in Chavez's
SEEN AS PRAGMATIC
Merentes, who has been president of the central bank since
2009, completed a PhD. in mathematics in Budapest in 1991 before
returning to Venezuela as a university professor.
"I think Merentes' pragmatism is positive. He is one of the
best options they have," said financial analyst Henkel Garcia of
Maduro has vowed to continue Chavez's hardline socialism.
Ecoanalitica director Asdrubal Oliveros said no one thought the
move would lead to a change in Venezuela's leftist model.
"But the weakening of Giordani is positive," Oliveros said.
Voters were showered with state spending in 2012 as Chavez
sought re-election, financed in part by billions of dollars in
bond issuance and loans from China.
Many private economists expect to see the economy grow by 2
percent or less this year when the administration slows
spending, as it normally does after presidential races.
The government maintains growth projections of 6 percent for
this year, and Maduro's allies dismiss talk of a slowdown as a
politically motivated smear campaign.
A veteran of Venezuela's polarized political scene, Merentes
ran a polling organization in between government jobs that
produced data usually favoring Chavez, who died on March 5 after
a two-year battle with cancer.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has refused to recognize
Maduro's narrow win in an April 14 election triggered by
Chavez's death, and alleges that there were thousands of voting
irregularities. He was dismissive of Maduro's new Cabinet.
"Members of the 'for now' government are being announced,"
Capriles said on Twitter. "Result: more of the same."