Maduro Rival Resigns From Post as Venezuela Ambassador to UN

(Bloomberg) -- Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations since 2014 and former Petroleos de Venezuela head, resigned from his post amid a string of arrests at the oil giant he used to run, he said in a tweet.

“This was a very hard decision to make,” he wrote in attached photos of a letter addressed to Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, and dated yesterday. “Nevertheless, after the decision of the president, I did not have any other choice.”

An official for Venezuela’s information ministry declined to comment on whether Ramirez’s resignation was connected to the government’s recent detentions. State news agency AVN reported that Samuel Moncada was named as the country’s new UN ambassador.

President Nicolas Maduro has embarked on a wide-reaching purge at PDVSA, with more than 65 officials of the company and its joint ventures in custody so far. Maduro and Ramirez have been intense rivals for years, and the vast bulk of the executives imprisoned by his forces are considered disciples or allies of latter. The sense from Venezuelan watchers is that having successfully crushed the political opposition, Maduro is turning his attention to his enemies from within Chavismo as he prepares to run for re-election next year.

“I have a name and a career that has been permanently under public scrutiny and domain. I will not stand for disrespect. Attacking me personally affects the unity of the revolutionary forces and the legacy of Chavez,” Ramirez wrote in the letter.

Ramirez, 54, rose to power as oil minister in 2002, during late Hugo Chavez’s regime. Two years later, he also took the lead at PDVSA and held onto it for a decade, breaking a long-standing separation between the country’s Energy Ministry and the company it was meant to oversee. In his letter, he offered no details on what he’ll do next and his whereabouts are uncertain.

Last month, Venezuela Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab arrested the acting president of Citgo, PDVSA’s U.S. refining arm, and promised to put more executives in jail. The company also asked employees last month to slash costs in half in an austerity drive that reflects the economic crisis that’s hitting the OPEC nation.

In a press conference today, Saab said that Ramirez’s cousin, Diego Salazar, participated in a scheme that laundered some 1.3 billion euros between 2011 and 2012 with at least 40 other people through dozens of shell companies were part of what’s known as the Andorra case.

Ramirez was behind the trademark slogan “roja, rojita,” first using it during a speech in PDVSA’s auditorium more than a decade ago. It was adopted by Chavez and his supporters, who commonly dressed in red uniforms and berets to reflect their allegiance to the socialist government. Chavez once suggested the phrase should win the Nobel prize for publicity, if such a category existed.

Following Chavez’s death in 2013, Ramirez rose to a new post as Venezuela’s economic czar while simultaneously holding on to his other two titles. Under Maduro, he tried to enact a series of reforms such as unifying the country’s multi-tiered exchange rates and reducing generous subsidies, but faced staunch resistance in socialist party ranks and was transferred to his current UN post in 2014.

“There those saying that these people are detained due to an internal fight -- an internal fight for what?,” Saab said today. “What there is here is a frontal assault again those who use state funds, either directly or indirectly, that have caused damage to the national economy.”

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