September 3, 2014 / 2:35 AM / 5 years ago

Ramirez removed as PDVSA head, oil minister in Venezuela shake-up

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday pushed Rafael Ramirez from his twin posts as oil minister and a chief of state oil firm PDVSA in a cabinet shake-up that opposition critics said fell short of the overhaul needed to reverse the OPEC nation’s economic decline.

Venezuela's new Oil and Mining Minister Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of the late president Hugo Chavez, smiles during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas in this September 2, 2014 handout picture. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

Maduro promoted former PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] exploration and production chief Eulogio Del Pino to the company’s top job and tapped Asdrubal Chavez, the cousin of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, to lead the energy and mining ministry.

The highly publicized cabinet overhaul is meant to revamp government as a slowing economy, soaring inflation and chronic product shortages have left Maduro seeking to boost flagging oil production and streamline the bloated public sector.

“I talked with Del Pino today. I’ve given him specific instructions for the process of developing a plan to accelerate and consolidate our oil industry, the bastion of our republic,” Maduro said in a roughly three-hour televised speech.

Ramirez was named oil minister in 2002 and was tapped to simultaneously run PDVSA in 2004.

Critics widely panned the move as a shuffle of the same faces that have dominated the cabinet for the last decade, insisting the only solution to Venezuela’s crisis is to abandon the state-centered economic model created under Chavez.

“The president decided to switch around ministers,” Luis Vicente Leon, the director of pollster Datanalisis, said on Twitter. “Nothing was announced to tackle the causes of the crisis. So for now the crisis can only worsen.”

Maduro promoted Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco to economy vice president, a post also held by Ramirez, in a sign he is seeking new economic leadership to face down an expected recession this year.

The cabinet changes split the leadership of PDVSA from the oil ministry, which for years had been run simultaneously by Ramirez.

Ramirez will move on to the Foreign Ministry, replacing Elias Jaua.

Del Pino, a Stanford-educated geophysicist, is known as a technically savvy manager who also helped turn PDVSA into the financial engine of the late Chavez’s self-style revolution.

He will take the helm of an oil firm blessed with the world’s largest oil reserves that has nonetheless seen production slump for six consecutive years as it struggles to get new projects off the ground.

Asdrubal Chavez is a career PDVSA official whose focus has primarily been on refining and supply. He first task will be to help the ministry reassert its independence after falling under the shadow of PDVSA during Ramirez’s tenure.

Maduro also announced the central bank would unite international reserves with the money of several massive anti-poverty government funds.

The move will likely give potential foreign investors a clearer idea of the state of Venezuela’s reserves.

Reporting by Diego Ore, Eyanir Chinea and Alexandra Ulmer; Writing by Brian Ellsworth and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Nick Macfie

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