Venezuela’s Maduro replaces VP while promising ‘new start’

New No 2, former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, is a key figure in the president’s most trusted inner circle

(FILES) In this file picture taken on August 10, 2017 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) arrives at the Congress with (then) head of the Constituent Assemby, Delcy Rodriguez (R) to address the all-powerful pro-Maduro assembly which has been placed over the National Assembly and tasked with rewriting the constitution, in Caracas. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced on June 14, 2018 in his Twitter account several changes in his government, highlighting the appointment of Delcy Rodriguez, one of his closest allies, as vice-president, replacing Tareck El Aissami. / AFP / Ronaldo SCHEMIDT

Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro named a new vice president Thursday in a leadership shuffle that he said sets the stage for a “new start” to his second term overseeing the crisis-rocked country.

The new No. 2, former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, has been serving as head of the government-controlled constitutional assembly. Ms Rodriguez and her brother, communications minister Jorge Rodriguez, are among Mr Maduro’s most trusted inner circle.

The president announced Ms Rodriguez’s promotion on Twitter, calling her a “sister” and “brave young woman” who has been “tested in a thousand battles.”

She replaces Tareck El Aissami, who fills a new role as the government’s top economic policy maker.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, the vice president is designated by the president. The vice president also assumes power if the president resigns or becomes incapacitated.

Ms Rodriguez will become the second woman to hold the country’s vice presidency. Six women were appointed to 10 other cabinet positions that were also filled Thursday.

Mr Maduro coasted to victory last month in an election boycotted by the main opposition parties and broadly condemned as illegitimate by the US and other foreign governments.

With his power consolidated, he must now tackle an economic crisis marked by widespread shortages and hyperinflation.

David Smilde, a Venezuela specialist as senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank, viewed Mr Maduro’s reorganisation as a move to consolidate his power in the people he trusts most.

The president since the middle of last year has relied heavily on Ms Rodriguez as head of the constitutional assembly and on her brother as his chief spokesman and lead negotiator in high-stakes negotiations with the opposition.

While Mr El Aissami maintains a key role in Venezuela’s power structure, he has his own following at times at odds with the president’s, Mr Smilde said.

“I see it as an effort to make sure that the people closest to him are his allies,” Mr Smilde said of the changes.

He also noted That Mr El Aissami will continue in title the economic role he already was performing. “It’s not like he’s being banished from the government.”

Aside from Mr Maduro, Ms Rodriguez is one of the most visible leaders of the Chavista movement created by the late socialist President Hugo Chavez.

She served as foreign minister for more than two years before being named president of the government-controlled assembly charged with rewriting the constitution.

Mr Maduro also praised Ms Rodriguez as being the “daughter of a martyr,” because her father was a socialist leader who died in police custody in the 1970s. Ms Rodriguez is a lawyer who studied in London and Paris before returning to Venezuela at Mr Chavez’s urging.

While Mr El Aissami was sanctioned by the US under the Kingpin Act for allegedly being a major drug trafficker, Ms Rodriguez is one of the few insiders to so far have escaped similar punishment from the U.S. However, Canada this year added her to its blacklist of officials they blame for gutting Venezuela’s democracy.