The fate of ambassador to the United Nations and former PDVSA head Rafael Ramirez is shrouded in mystery today, after Reuters reported this afternoon that he had been stripped of his position this afternoon. The Reuters report cited “four sources with knowledge of the matter”.
However, Ramirez reacted to the news immediately by refuting it, claiming that he was still Venezuela’s UN ambassador and that the story of his destitution was false. Ramirez made the comments in an interview with CNN en Español.
One of the sources cited by Reuters claimed that Maduro removed Ramirez from his position last night.
If Ramirez has in fact been removed from his position, the move would constitute a significant escalation of animosity between the longtime PSUV pillar and Maduro
Ramirez was a close ally of Chavez throughout his presidency. Chavez named him the president of the state-owned PDVSA company in December 2004, one of the most important and prestigious positions in the Venezuelan state. He served as the company’s president for 12 years.
Ramirez’s powerful position inside the PSUV made him a natural threat to Maduro’s power following Chavez’s death in 2013. In December 2014, Maduro named Ramirez ambassador to the United Nations in a move that some analysts viewed as a clear attempt to remove Ramirez from play through a kind of exile.
News Comes As Ramirez-Maduro Falling Out Boils Over
News of Ramirez’s possible dismissal from his position comes at a low point in his public relationship with Maduro, which has soured in recent weeks.
Ramirez’s falling out with the Maduro regime came to a boil with an article that he published on November 19 in Aporrea, a chavista website that has become increasingly critical of Maduro. In the article, titled “The Storm”, Ramirez relates how he worked alongside Chavez prior to his death in 2013 to address many of the issues that have led to the country’s economic collapse since then. Ramirez also criticized Maduro for not granting him “the necessary support” to rectify the country’s economic woes in 2013 and 2014, when he was vice-president of the country’s economic cabinet position.
“The Storm” was poorly received by the PSUV. Iris Varela, a high-ranking party member, reacted to the article just a day later, saying that Ramirez’s comments “soiled” Maduro’s presidency and suggesting that Ramirez had a nefarious motivation for speaking out against him.
Ramirez was quick to respond to Varela’s criticism by posting the following message on his Twitter account:
Whoever attacks me should think about what they’re doing a bit, just a bit, because Chavez kept me by his side for 12 year. Moreover, when he was dying, he called only four people into his room and I was there. This means that some newcomer has nothing to say to me. Viva Chavez! We will be victorious!
Maduro himself reacted to the article on November 22 by accusing Ramirez of “betraying” the Bolivarian Revolution. On the article, Maduro said:
Whoever betrays the Revolution will dry up.
On Sunday, Ramirez published a second article on Aporrea in which he defended his loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution and spoke at length about his undying loyalty to Chavez.
Ramirez’s article–titled “Is It Ethical to Remain Quiet?”–calls attention to Maduro’s intolerance of critique, saying that he is “disappointed” by the president’s stance. Part of the article reads:
It would have been more comfortable and safer to not say anything. To stay silent. I am not like that. We must raise the alarm. Prestigious men whom I respect have done so. The suggestions made from the Bolivarian camp, the Revolutionary camp must be heard. I am disappointed that no constructive criticism is allowed, as does the fact that some of my colleagues who know me have fallen victim to the right wing’s manipulation…
The seemingly innocuous comment is rare in authoritarian Venezuela, where criticism of Maduro or the PSUV from fellow party members is virtually unprecedented. The last high profile party member to speak openly against Maduro was attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz, whose public break from the regime in March of this year eventually led to her removal from office and her exile from Venezuela.
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