Mexico City, 28 April 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday appointed as his new oil minister Tareck El Aissami, who has been sanctioned by the United States for alleged narcotics trafficking.
Maduro also named his predecessor Hugo Chavez’s cousin Asdrubal Chavez as head of state-run oil giant PDVSA, according to the government’s official gazette.
El Aissami served as Venezuela’s executive vice president from 2017 to 2018 and was the country’s vice president for the economic area until the new oil post.
In 2017, he was branded a “specially designated narcotics trafficker” by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC).
According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who put El Aissami on its most wanted list in 2018, the Venezuelan “oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions.”
Maduro, who won a second term in a controversial election in 2018, has presided over an economic meltdown that led to a mass exodus from Venezuela and has prompted demonstrations against his rule.
Crude oil accounts for the vast majority of Venezuelan exports and bankrolls Maduro’s government, which is still supported by key members of the country’s powerful military.
The once-rich country is in a deep economic crisis and the health care system is in tatters, with massive shortages of medicines and supplies.
Many doctors have already left the country. If the coronavirus pandemic reaches the South American country, many people could die.