Tareck el Aissami, accused by the U.S. of drug trafficking and supporting terrorism, was recently appointed as Venezuela’s new Oil Minister. Also, Asdrúbal Chavez, a relative of late President Hugo Chavez, was appointed as President of Petroleos de Venezuela, (PDVSA).
This will be the oil company’s seventh management change since Maduro’s rise to power in 2013.
Tareck el Aissami is among the Venezuelan officials formally charged with drug trafficking by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorney-General’s Office. In the ruling published on March 26, the Department offers a $15 million reward for information leading to the capture of Nicolas Maduro, and $10 million for El Aissami.
Moreover, in 2019, the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement added the newly appointed minister on the list of the 10 most-wanted fugitives; as he is wanted for international drug trafficking, according to the organization’s website.
Unfinished business with justice
In 2017, the U.S. government included El Aissami in a list of “drug lords” and moved to impose sanctions under the Kingpin Act. The legal instrument, enacted in December 1999, enables to block activities from foreign individuals and organizations tied to drug trafficking.
According to the Treasury Department, El Aissami’s inclusion in this list stems from his significant role in international drug trafficking.
For his part, Minister Counselor of the Venezuelan Embassy to the United States Gustavo Marcano stated that El Aissami’s appointment as Oil Minister is part of Venezuela’s oil deals with Iran.
“Maduro distributes spaces of powers to terrorist groups in exchange for retaining power,” the diplomat assigned by Interim President Guaido said on Twitter.
La designación de Tareck El Aissami, como “Ministro” de petróleo, es otro de los acuerdos entre el narcorégimen e #Irán.
Maduro reparte espacios de “poder” a grupos terroristas, a cambio de sostenerse en el poder.
Los países democráticos del mundo harán frente a esta amenaza. https://t.co/Kx9TPw9iRf
— Gustavo Marcano. (@GustavoMarcano) April 27, 2020
A relative of Hugo Chavez in PDVSA
Asdrubal Chavez is a Chemical Engineer from the Universidad de Los Andes. In 2005, while working as PDVSA’s executive director of commerce, he signed an energy agreement with Paraguay. This later became a scandal after an audit on state-owned company Petroleos Paraguayos revealed the misuse of $173 million in tariffs paid to PDVSA.
Chavez also worked as Secretary-General of Petrocaribe and PDVSA’s Executive Director of Commerce and Supply. He was in charge of the company’s negotiating team during the discussions pertaining to the 2004-2006 collective contract. Additionally, he was Vice President of PDVSA in 2011 with Eulogio del Pino. Three years later, he replaced Rafael Ramírez as Minister of Oil and Mining.
In 2013, Representative Ramon Guillermo Aveledo blamed him for the explosion of the Amuay refinery on August 25, 2012. Chavez was also the CEO of Citgo, PDVSA’s U.S. subsidiary, from November 2017 until February 2019. He was the cousin of late president Hugo Chavez and has worked at the state-owned company for approximately 30 years.
Documentos usados en las denuncias por corrupción, allí aparece; Ramírez, Del Pino, Aular y Asdrubal Chávez ahora el Presidente encargado de PDVSA. Solo digo la justicia que viene, tendrá que actuar en consecuencia. pic.twitter.com/iVgyIe2QAV
— Juan Fernandez (@JFernandeznupa) April 28, 2020
An announced dismissal
Since November 2017, General Manuel Quevedo, an active officer of the Venezuelan National Guard, worked as both Oil Minister and president of Petroleos de Venezuela. Once in office, he assured that production would recover. It did not. On the contrary, it hit new lows.
Quevedo promised that production would go up by one million barrels, but during his term, production actually decreased by that same amount. Tareck now receives a company producing just 700,000 barrels per day.
An industry in crisis
After 20 years of chavista rule, the state-owned company went from producing nearly four million barrels per day with a little under 40,000 workers to less than 700,000 barrels with a staff of over 120,000 people.
On Friday, the price of the Venezuelan crude barrel fell under $10 to $9.9. Output, therefore, went down 1998 levels, when it averaged $9.38.
At the same time, the country is running out of gasoline. Despite having one of the world’s largest crude reserves, Venezuelans must endure hours-long queues to fill their tanks. This situation has also seen the rise of a highly speculative black market where some may charge up to $3 per liter of petrol.
Recent data from the National Poll on COVID-19 Impact, conducted by the Commission of Health Experts appointed by Juan Guaido; revealed that fuel shortage in Venezuela stands at 90.74%.
Escasez de combustibles en Venezuela: un escenario explosivo. https://t.co/P78RgIEfIq
— Bienvenidos Vzlanos (@BienvenidosV) April 10, 2020
Tareck el Aissami is also the Vice President for the Economic Area of Venezuela. In this regard, he announced a price control mechanism to fight inflation. This measure has repeatedly failed during Maduro’s regime and generated high levels of food shortage. We shall see if he also plans to implement this type of initiative as Oil Minister to solve the current fuel shortage in Venezuela.