CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday unexpectedly named a moderate business leader as the country’s economy vice president, replacing a hard-line socialist who lasted only a month amid the OPEC nation’s deepening economic crisis.
Miguel Perez, former head of an industry association, becomes economy czar as Venezuela suffers a severe recession, scarcity of food and medicine, a currency crash on the black market and inflation forecast to hit 720 percent this year by the International Monetary Fund.
Seen as more inclined towards reform than his outgoing predecessor Luis Salas, Perez has sought dialogue with Venezuela’s private sector and has also spoken of the need to eventually unify Venezuela’s multiple exchange rates.
“I have decided to name the minister for industry and commerce, companion Miguel Perez, as the new vice president for productive economy,” Maduro said during a short evening television address, saying Salas had left due to family reasons but would continue working with the government.
Despite Perez’s apparent pragmatic stance, it remains unclear if his appointment will signify a shift in policies. Maduro said he would make announcements on Tuesday, but did not provide details.
Economists expressed skepticism over the choice, saying it was too little, too late.
“For an economic adjustment to be successful, many things are needed,” said local economist Henkel Garcia on Twitter. “Two of those are competence and credibility. Both are in short supply.”
The move follows weeks of rumors of economic reforms including currency devaluation and a hike in the world’s cheapest fuel prices, which the government has said is necessary.
However, Maduro has shied away from major economic reforms, which would likely hit his poor support base, during his near three-year term despite the crisis, which has been aggravated by the global tumble in oil prices.
Perez told state news agency AVN in January that Venezuela was going in “the right direction,” though admitted there were problems.
The country’s opposition, which last month took control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years, said his appointment suggested improvisation in the government and lack of leadership.
“Maduro is adrift,” opposition lawmaker and economist Jose Guerra said on Twitter. “Salas lasted 30 days. This is the chaos in government.”
“(Maduro) keeps recycling his ministers without announcing measures and the crisis worsens,” added opposition lawmaker Luis Florido.
Reporting by Girish Gupta, Alexandra Ulmer and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bill Rigby