January 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Power struggle in Venezuela?

The rising gang violence that has emanated from prisons in Central America, Brazil, and Mexico over the past year or two may be spreading to Venezuela. In the western state of Lara, a total of 22 prisoners were killed in gang fights since Monday, and in response Hugo Chavez fired his Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon. There are hints of a power struggle behind the scenes, however, because Chavez also dismissed Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who has played a prominent role in defending Chavez in the diplomatic arena. "Rangel will be replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, a Chavez ally who served as a director of the country's electoral commission during a heated 2004 recall referendum against the president." See CNN.com. The United States government has complained that Venezuela is lax in fighting drug trafficking, so this incident serves as a test of whether or not Chavez is serious about enforcing the law.