Venezuela Legislators Seek Changes


By: Associated Press
 The Washington Post, February 20, 2002


Caracas, Venezuela Venezuela's foreign minister outlined the country's economic policy to foreign diplomats Wednesday as lawmakers, including some from the majority party, demanded changes in the Cabinet to help stabilize the volatile economy.

"We had an in-depth look at advances made in social, political, and economic policy," Luis Alfonso Davila said after the closed-door meeting, the state news agency Venpres said.

President Hugo Chavez decided last week to float the Venezuelan bolivar and cut spending by 7 percent. Davila told diplomats positive results will appear shortly, Venpres said.

But some majority party lawmakers said the measures showed the three-year-old administration's financial policies have failed and that a new Cabinet could boost confidence.

Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, Finance Minister Nelson Merentes and Production Minister Adina Bastidas should all be replaced, 10 members of the Fifth Republic Movement proposed late Tuesday.

"We think it's better to replace those cabinet members because we now have a new policy. It would just give the program more credibility," said lawmaker Francisco Solorzano.

Cilia Flores, head of the majority party in the National Assembly, said Chavez was considering changes.

Caracas newspapers reported Wednesday that the head of Congress' economic advisory office, Francisco Rodriguez, might become finance minister. Felipe Perez, an economy professor at a Caracas business school, could become production minister.

Bastidas, a former vice president, has not been welcomed by Venezuela's business sector. Bastidas was heavily involved in creating 49 laws that provoked an outcry from the business sector, which argued the laws gave the state too much control over industries ranging from agriculture to oil.

The decision to float the bolivar against the dollar and recent street protests against Chavez's government unsettled financial markets. The move was designed to halt capital flight and end a depletion of foreign reserves.

The bolivar has depreciated 17 percent since Feb. 13, and analysts fear inflation could rise from 10 percent to 30 percent annually.

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