Venezuela economy ideologue Giordani pushed from planning ministry

| Jun. 18, 2014 | Caracas, Venezuela

Published by Reuters

Girish Gupta and Patricia Velez

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday removed Jorge Giordani, the main architect of the country's complex price and currency control systems, from his post as planning minister in what may be a sign of pragmatism from the socialist government.

Giordani helped create a state-led economic system while serving in the finance and planning ministries during much of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez's 14-year self-styled revolution.

The Marxist economist was one of Chavez's closest advisers, but has been increasingly out of step with Maduro's efforts to relax currency controls amid slowing growth and soaring inflation that has topped 60 percent.

"(He) is a man who delivered with absolute honesty in all of the tasks entrusted to him by the Revolution," said Maduro during a weekly television show.

University Education Minister Ricardo Menendez will take over the ministry, though much of the economic decision-making is now in the hands of Economy Vice President Rafael Ramirez.

Giordani lived an austere lifestyle, in contrast to the ostentatious wealth of some government officials. This earned him the nickname "The Monk."

He was often dismissed by opposition critics as a Soviet-era dinosaur lost in utopian visions of planned economics. They singled him out for worsening nagging product shortages by tightening exchange controls in 2010.

Maduro's government is now pursuing the opposite strategy, seeking to unify a three-tiered exchange control system that is plagued by corruption and unable to provide businesses with U.S. dollars needed to import machine parts and raw materials.

Last week Giordani lost his position on the board of the country's central bank in what many on Wall Street celebrated as a sign of the growing influence of pragmatic thinkers.

Other have noted that the septuagenarian Giordani is growing old and is rumored not to get along well with Maduro.

"More than a rotation of seats among the senior policy-makers we need altogether a completely different policy approach," said Alberto Ramos, a senior Latin America analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Shortages and high inflation fueled anti-government protests earlier this year that left 42 dead. Authorities blamed the economic problems on an "economic war" waged against it by the opposition.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth)