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Venezuelan president names official in charge of social media

Maduro appoints 107 deputy ministers responsible for a range of new areas

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. AP

In a move he says will improve his administration’s ability to carry out pending tasks, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday appointed 107 deputy ministers responsible for new areas, including an official who will be in charge of social media.

This second tier of government officials will answer to 29 new ministers Maduro also named, who will make up his reshuffled Cabinet. Just nine months into his term, the president explained that the government isn’t becoming more bureaucratic but is instead taking on more responsibilities and undertaking “tasks that cannot be put off.”

Maduro has promised to carry on with the “Bolivarian Revolution” designed by his predecessor and mentor, the late President Hugo Chávez, who died from cancer last March.

One of the most surprising appointments was that of José Miguel España, who will become deputy minister for social media. Reporting to the Communications and Information Ministry, he will be in charge of monitoring opinions regarding Venezuela and the Maduro government and promoting favorable coverage through the use of hashtags.

Maduro has promised to carry on with the “Bolivarian Revolution” designed by his predecessor

Twitter comments

Soon after his appointment was announced, Twitter users bombarded the network with jokes and warnings about the new role. The social networks, principally Twitter, have been one of the last places in Venezuela where people can voice their criticism about the government without fear of being censored, something that has upset some Maduro administration officials in the past.

“The social networks will be used as areas to promote peace and inclusion,” España said.

Little is known about España. An engineer by profession, he was in charge of a City Hall department in the Libertador municipality — part of Caracas — whose mayor is former Vice President Jorge Rodríguez. His own Twitter account, @JoseMEspa, was opened just a few hours before he was sworn in. But by Tuesday night, it had mysteriously disappeared. It was not immediately clear whether the account had been opened by an imposter or was deliberately blocked.

Other striking appointments included that of Carolina Cestari, who is now deputy vice minister for Supreme Social Happiness. The office was created last October by Maduro in honor “of Bolívar and Chávez” to coordinate government assistance programs, better known as “missions,” in poorer neighborhoods.

Cestari had been a personal assistant to first lady Cilia Flores, when she served as National Assembly speaker from 2006 to 2011. She was also a producer of a TV show called La Hojilla (The Razor), which was broadcast on state-run Venezolana de Television (VTV).

The program was one of Chávez’s favorites, and he would sometimes call in to discuss government policy. However, it was pulled off the air last May when an opposition deputy released a recording of a conversation between the show’s host Mario Silva and Cuban intelligence officer Aramis Palacios gossiping about Maduro and other government officials.

In the recording, Silva described Cestari as being “an evil woman.”

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