Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has named Tareck El Aissami, a powerful drug kingpin, to head up the socialist government-controlled oil ministry. He also named Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of Hugo Chavez, to run the state-run oil giant PDVSA.
Venezuela sits atop an ocean of oil with the largest proven reserves in the world. But production has declined 65 percent over the last two years, causing massive shortages of gasoline. Previously, the director of PDVSA and oil minister was Gen. Manuel Quevedo, a Maduro loyalist with not much else to recommend him.
Chavez previously ran the PDVSA subsidiary of Citgo, but resigned when he was unable to get a U.S. visa. At least he knows something about the oil industry. The new oil minister, El Aissami, is an experienced criminal and not much else.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently added El Aissami to its list of 10 most-wanted fugitives. He was sanctioned in 2017 as allegedly being a major drug trafficker and then was indicted two years later on allegations of violating those sanctions.
A key adviser to Maduro, El Aissami, 45, has served previously as vice president and most recently [as] minister of industry. El Aissami is among dozens of Maduro allies sanctioned by Washington, while Chávez has not been targeted by the Trump administration with financial measures.
El Aissami is a perfect crony for Maduro and will now attempt to loot what’s left of the Venezuelan oil ministry.
El Aissami was indicted for the second time by a U.S. federal court last month for being part of the alleged narcoterrorist conspiracy alongside Maduro. Authorities offered a $10 million bounty for information leading to El Aissami’s arrest and $15 million for Maduro’s arrest.
Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela’s political and social crisis continues to deepen, as the U.S. and a coalition of nearly 60 nations press Maduro to stand down. Those nations recognize opposition politician Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, arguing that Maduro’s election in 2018 was a sham because the most popular opposition candidates were banned from running.
Maduro’s choice has caused some speculation that he may be looking for an exit from his nightmare sometime soon. Appointing a crony whose credentials to run the oil industry are suspect suggests that El Aissami was put there for some other reason besides boosting oil production. In Maduro’s kleptocracy, El Aissami is now in a good position to rake in a lot of cash to ease his and Maduro’s retirement.
He’s certainly not there to boost production of oil.