Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro has appointed a top general as the country’s interior minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle, despite General Nestor Reverol being accused in the US of abetting cocaine smuggling.
Reverol is a former head of both the anti-narcotics agency and the National Guard. Venezuela’s government said the allegations are part of an international smear campaign. Reverol has previously denied US allegations.
Reverol’s appointment comes a day after Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) approved the first step towards a recall referendum against Maduro after signatures were collected from one percent of the electorate in each state.
That allows the opposition to begin the second stage: collecting the signatures of 20 percent of the electorate in support of ousting Maduro from power – in just three days.
Speaking on his weekly “In Contact with Maduro” television show, the president said, “…if the opposition legally obtains the signatures, we will go to elections next year and I am sure that the Venezuelan people will hand us a victory of the fatherland, a victory of peace. I am sure that next year, in February, March or April, we will win that referendum.”
Four million names are needed to advance towards a referendum to recall Maduro’s mandate.
The opposition has asked the CNE to set a deadline for collecting the signatures.
The timing of a referendum is significant. If Maduro loses a vote this year, there would be a new presidential election. But if he loses one next year, he’d be replaced by his vice-president.
Government allegations of fraud
The government, however, has vowed there will be no referendum this year. It has launched nearly 9,000 lawsuits, alleging massive fraud in the signature collection process.
But the president of the CNE said that 98 percent of nearly 408,000 signatures gathered by the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition — twice the minimum requirement of one percent, or 200,000 — in the initial phase were validated.
She has requested a probe into the others.
Polls show Maduro is likely to lose a referendum, due to the country’s severe economic crisis and high crime rate.
Thousands of opposition protesters have taken to the streets blaming Maduro for a long recession, triple-digit inflation, and shortages of basic items in the shops.
Maduro blames falling oil prices and what he says is an economic war by opponents.