CARACAS, Venezuela – President Nicolas Maduro promoted several soldiers Wednesday night as he reshuffled his Cabinet to allow top officials to run for seats in a special assembly to rewrite Venezuela's constitution.
As part of the shake-up, three army generals were given key posts. The embattled Maduro also named Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States as foreign minister to replace close ally Delcy Rodriguez.
Military men getting new posts include Gen. Antonio Benavides, who headed the national guard, which has been accused of abuses during the crackdown on anti-government protests that have left at least 70 dead and hundreds injured. Benavides, who the U.S. government sanctioned in 2015 for alleged human rights abuses during a previous wave of unrest, will now lead an agency created by Maduro to oversee the capital, whose opposition mayor was jailed two years ago.
Gen. Carlos Osorio, who had been serving as the armed forces' inspector general, is taking over as Maduro's chief of staff. An Associated Press investigation last year identified Osorio as among top officials in the military trafficking in hard-to-find food. He never responded to repeated requests for comment, but in the past dismissed charges of corruption as empty accusations propagated by his political opponents.
Maduro named as transportation minister Gen. Juan García Toussaintt, who until this week was the army commander.
Both Osorio and Toussaintt replac top aides who along with Rodriguez and first lady Cilia Flores are leading a slate of socialist party stalwarts competing in an election scheduled next month to choose delegates to rewrite the constitution.
The opposition is boycotting the election, saying voting procedures heavily favor the government, and Maduro's once-loyal chief prosecutor has denounced the effort to rewrite Hugo Chavez's 1999 constitution as the death knell of Venezuela's democracy.
As Maduro was announcing his shake-up hundreds of opponents gathered on the streets of Caracas to honor the latest victim of the more than two-month-old street battles: 17-year-old protester Fabian Urbina, who was fatally shot by security forces during clashes Tuesday.
Cellphone videos show Urbina was killed when a national guardsman fired into a crowd.