President Nicolás Maduro's latest reshuffling of cabinet and military command deepens the militarization of Venezuela's government, even as security forces have lost much of their legitimacy due to widespread criminal conduct within their ranks.
Six of the nine new cabinet members appointed by Maduro on June 21 are high-ranking military officers, according to the state news service.
In addition to Gen. Carlos Osorio Zambrano, who will take over as the president's chief of staff, Maduro promoted to civilian office former Army Commander Juan de Jesús García Toussaintt; former Navy Commander Admiral Orlando Maneiro; and Gen. Antonio Benavides Torres, the former chief of the Bolivarian National Guard (Guadia Nacional Bolivariana - GNB), who was previously accused of human rights abuses for his involvement in the repression of demonstrations in 2015.
Current Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López will also assume the responsibility of vice president for sovereignty (Gobierno para la Soberanía), while Maj. Gen. Luis Motta Domínguez, the current electricity minister, will now additionally serve as vice president for public works.
The outgoing ministers have resigned in order to campaign for seats in Venezuela's upcoming Constituent Assembly, which will be tasked with writing a new constitution.
InSight Crime Analysis
The ongoing militarization of the Venezuelan state is worrying, given that the country's security forces have lost much of their legitimacy due to widespread criminal activity within their ranks.
Several new ministers face such suspicion. Gen. Osorio Zabrano, for instance, the newly appointed chief of staff and former food minister, is named in an Associated Press investigation into widespread food trafficking by the military, which was put in charge of food distribution in the country last year. Toussaintt, for his part, may have been involved in a suspected gold and diamond trafficking scheme with stolen government money, according to an ABC investigation.
Meanwhile, Motta is under US investigation for cocaine trafficking, according to the Wall Street Journal. The officer is suspected of belonging to the Cartel of the Suns, a network of corrupt elements within military ranks suspected of controlling Venezuela's sizeable drug trade. Motta also received a vote of no confidence this year from the opposition-controlled National Assembly on suspicion of embezzlement.
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Additionally, the militarization trend does not bode well for the country's high levels of violence. Reports indicate that the government's policy of involving military elements in the fight against crime has engendered repeated cases of extrajudicial killings, while the army has been blamed for protestors' deaths during both current and previous demonstrations.