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Venezuela’s Maduro plans to replace El Aissami Oil Minister-source

PHOTO FILE: St.Petersburg International Economic Forum
FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan Vice President of Economy Tareck El Aissami attends a session of the St.Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 6, 2019. REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov / File Photo

December 9, 2021

By Deisy Buitrago and Marianna Parraga

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro plans to replace Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami – a key ruling party official who also serves as Venezuela’s OPEC representative and board member state oil company – because of health issues, said eight sources close to the decision.

In recent weeks, El Aissami’s health has deteriorated, which may make it impossible for him to fulfill his ministerial duties at least temporarily, according to sources, all of which are claimed. anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The minister – who is credited with helping Venezuela get through US sanctions – recently underwent major surgery, according to three of them.

Four of the sources say that Maduro may appoint ally Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and current President Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), at least temporarily.

Chavez previously served as oil minister and president of PDVSA’s Citgo Petroleum subsidiary in the US.

Sources say a final decision on whether to choose a replacement to handle El Aissami’s other government responsibilities has yet to be made.

PDVSA, the oil ministry and the information ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the minister’s health and Maduro’s plans.

El Aissami could not be immediately reached for comment.

The official’s possible removal from duty, three sources said, after a concussion in PDVSA removed key officials who had worked with El Aissami in several divisions and subsidiaries, including maritime division and the supply and trade division.

“His teams at the supply and sales department were split. It is only a matter of time before he is replaced,” said one resident.

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El Aissami began overseeing PDVSA in 2018 as a board member and head of restructuring. Last year, he also assumed the position of oil minister and the top representative of Venezuela to OPEC.

The minister, who is also Maduro’s vice president of economic affairs, is known for delivering results and forging important alliances with countries like Iran. He has played a key role in helping his government maintain a functioning economy despite wide-ranging US sanctions.

Since 2017 he has also been on the US list of people sanctioned for alleged drug trafficking and in 2019 he was added to the agency’s “most wanted” list. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

El Aissami has denied trafficking charges while accusing Washington of illegally imposing sanctions on the country.

El Aissami – like his predecessor in the oil ministry – has fallen short of the production target set by Maduro of recovering more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of production lost in the country.

Venezuela’s oil production has fallen from about 2.5 million bpd a decade ago after US sanctions plus years of underinvestment and mismanagement by the oil industry.

In recent months, however, El Aissami’s administration has been able to surpass production by 900,000 barrels per day, creating expectations for the first time since sanctions were imposed that Venezuelan production could stable.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Marianna Parraga in Houston and Mircely Guanipa in Maracay. Editing by Daniel Flynn and Marguerita Choy)

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DUSTIN JONES

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