Venezuela stepped up attacks on the US on Monday, threatening retaliatory measures affecting trade and energy if Washington resorts to sanctions in a row over the country’s disputed presidential election.
Vowing not to go back on former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s revolution, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said at a swearing-in ceremony for his new Cabinet that “there will be no pact here of any kind with the bourgeoisie. Make no mistake.”
He accused the US of threatening Venezuela and spoke with approval of the warning to Washington leveled earlier in the day by Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
“If the United States takes recourse to economic sanctions, or sanctions of any other kind, we will take measures of a commercial, energy, economic and political order that we consider necessary,” Jaua said in a television interview.
It came after a senior US Department of State official was quoted as urging Venezuela to recount the votes in the April 14 election to give the public confidence in the result.
The US has so far withheld recognition of the official election results, which gave Maduro a narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Radonski Capriles, setting off violent protests that left eight people dead.
An audit of the vote is supposed to begin as early as this week, but Venezuelan National Electoral Council vice president Sandra Oblitas on Saturday said it would not overturn Maduro’s victory.
US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was reported to have said over the weekend that the Venezuelan election council acted too quickly in proclaiming Maduro the winner, and that half of Venezuelans do not have confidence in the result.
Asked if the US would impose sanctions if Venezuela refused to recount the votes, Jacobson said she could not say one way or another, CNN en Espanol reported.
The US imports about 900,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela, which produces between 2.3 million and 3 million barrels a day. Venezuela, which depends on oil sales for 90 percent of its revenue, sits atop the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves.
Meanwhile, Maduro met with his Cabinet, which includes new finance and interior ministers, but is mostly made up of holdovers, particularly in the key foreign, defense and energy portfolios. Chavez’s son-in-law Jorge Arreazam was ratified as Venezuela’s vice president.
The changes made it clear Maduro wanted new approaches to two major sources of public discontent: an inflation-ravaged economy and a soaring violent crime rate.
“We have to control inflation,” Maduro said in announcing his so-called “government of the streets” late on Sunday.
He split the Venezuelan Ministry of Planning and Finance in two, naming Central Bank of Venezuela President Nelson Merentes the new minister of finance to replace Jorge Giordani, who was left in charge of the separate Ministry of Planning.
Giordani was the architect of a system of strict foreign currency controls that critics say have contributed to shortages, a sharp decline in investment and Latin America’s highest inflation rate, at more than 20 percent.
Maduro praised Giordani as “one of the most loyal men Chavez had,” but said Merentes would bring new ideas on how to control speculation and inflation.
He also named his chief of intelligence, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, as Venezuela’s minister of the interior and justice “to protect and build the foundations of peace” in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates.
The reshuffled Cabinet comes as Maduro grapples with the implications of a near-loss at the polls. An estimated 700,000 voters swung to Capriles following his 11-point loss to Chavez in the presidential elections in October last year.
By contrast, Maduro won with a 1.8 percentage point-margin.
Venezuelan National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, the second-most powerful Chavista figure after Maduro, on Sunday said he had ordered an internal review within the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela to try to understand what happened.
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