Venezuela’s socialist government is known for its revolving door of ministers. So it wasn’t unusual Wednesday night when President Nicolás Maduro changed his vice president. But this shift is cause for concern – especially in South Florida.
As Venezuela’s economy collapses, Maduro has made no secret of his effort to weaken if not outlaw his political opposition. Political analysts says that’s largely why he chose Tareck El Aissami as his new vice president. El Aissami is a former security minister and state governor. But more important, he’s considered a fierce attack dog for Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV).
“He is somebody that Maduro said is going to be in charge of attacking the opposition – to eliminate any opposition to the government," says Fort Lauderdale businessman Pedro Vasquez, who is U.S. spokesman for the Venezuela opposition party Voluntad Popular.
Vasquez points out that under El Aissami’s watch, Venezuela’s homicide rate became the highest in South America. El Aissami is also reportedly under U.S. investigation for drug trafficking, a charge he denies.
“He has been linked to violence from the beginning," says Vasquez. "If something happens to Maduro, then we’re going to have someone like El Aissami being the president of the country.”
Oil-rich Venezuela is in the midst of the world's worst economic collapse thanks to plunging crude prices but also, say critics, authoritarian mismanagement. Polls show most Venezuelans want Maduro out as president, but the opposition's efforts to hold a recall referendum have been blocked.