CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s former oil czar resigned as ambassador to the United Nations Tuesday on what he said were orders from President Nicolas Maduro, a sign of growing divisions in the ruling socialist party amid a deepening economic crisis.
Rafael Ramirez said on social media that he tendered his resignation a day prior, ending a week of speculation about the diplomatic envoy’s political standing after a cousin and several former acolytes were arrested in a highly-publicized purge in the oil industry.
Maduro has been trying to fortify his mandate by attacking corruption at state-run oil company PDVSA, which Ramirez led for over a decade.
But in a post on social media, Ramirez said: “I’ve been removed for my opinions.”
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In a rambling, sometimes supplicant public letter to his former boss, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Ramirez described feeling heartbroken to no longer be serving the revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez, to whom he was a very close and trusted aide.
But as international pressure on Venezuela has increased amid an unprecedented economic crisis, he said he felt the need to speak out on policies he knew a great deal about from his 12-year run atop PDVSA, the source of almost all of Venezuela’s foreign currency earnings.
“I remain committed to insisting at the highest levels of the government for the need for deep reflection so we can retake the successful path laid out by Comandante Chavez for the benefit of our people and homeland,” he wrote in the four-page letter.
“I wouldn’t want to imagine how the attacks and vilification will increase now for expressing my opinions and stating my position in defense of the revolution,” he added.
Ramirez is the highest-level official to break with Maduro since chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega criticized the president’s attempts to gut the opposition-controlled congress and rewrite the constitution — actions that garnered international rebuke and triggered months of anti-government protests.
Like Ortega, who was ousted earlier this year, Ramirez pledged allegiance to Chavez’s revolution in his farewell missive and gave no indication that he would turn against his former comrades and assist U.S. authorities seeking to isolate Maduro.
Ramirez, who was never part of Maduro’s inner circle, is believed to have been the ultimate target of the housecleaning at…