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Chavez shuffles Venezuela Cabinet, troubled food distribution agency

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Bishops call food waste "a sin that heaven is crying over"
  • Nine ministers named to new posts
  • National food agency now will report to vice president
  • Food agency embroiled in controversy over spoiled food

(CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reshuffled his Cabinet, naming nine ministers to new posts and placing the nation's troubled food distribution network under the vice president, the government announced Wednesday.

In addition, Chavez split the ministry of public works and housing into departments of transportation and communication, and housing and habitats.

The food distribution network has been run by the national energy and petroleum ministry but has been embroiled in controversy over its inefficiency and allowing tons of food to rot and go to waste.

The scandal grew in late May when containers with rotten, spoiled or expired food were found in a warehouse operated by the food agency, named the Venezuelan Producer and Distributor of Food but commonly known as PDVAL.

The Venezuelan Bishops' Conference recently called the scandal "a sin that heaven is crying over." The bishops called on the government to punish officials involved in the issue and to take the needed measures to keep it from happening again.

Three officials were arrested this month in connection with the food waste: former PDVAL President Luis Enrique Pulido, general manager Ronald Flores and operations and logistics chief Vilyeska Betancourt.

El Universal newspaper published a story recently that said the 122,000 tons of rotten food found so far could have been used to feed 17 million Venezuelans -- more than half the nation's population -- for a month.

Energy and Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez put much of the blame on the private sector recently, saying that an attack on PDVAL amounted to criticism of Chavez.

But Chavez seemed to realize he had a problem, and Vice President Elias Jaua said last week the government was evaluating whether to transfer control of PDVAL to the Ministry of Food.

Chavez started the food agency in January 2008 as a way to stop what he called stockpiling by private food companies.

According to a decree published Wednesday by the government in the Official Gazette, the following people have been named to Cabinet posts: Mauricio Rodriguez Gelfenstein becomes minister of communication and information, Jennifer Josefina Gil takes over at the education ministry, Hector Rodriguez is the sports minister, Maria Isabella Godoy Pena will be in charge of the president's office and Juan Carlos Loyo Hernandez becomes minister of agriculture and land and president of the National Institute of Land.

Also named were Nancy Perez Sierra as minister for women and Isis Ochoa as head of the ministry for communes.

In addition, Francisco Jose Garces Da Silva becomes head of the newly created ministry of transport and communication and Ricardo Antonio Molina Penaloza assumes the top post at new ministry of housing and habitats.