February 3, 2015 / 2:58 PM / 3 years ago

Venezuela becoming 'laughing stock', ex-Chavez economic guru says

Venezuela's Planning Minister Jorge Giordani talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas August 22, 2013 in this file picture.Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's economic failings are turning it into the "laughing-stock" of Latin America, according to late president Hugo Chavez's top economic planner.

Former Finance and Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, who was sacked in mid-2014 by Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, said in an interview this week that reforms in the South American OPEC nation are years overdue.

"We should have taken measures from Oct. 7, 2012," Giordani told local website notitimes.com, referring to the date of Chavez's last presidential election victory. Chavez, who was president for 14 years, died of cancer in 2013.

"In truth, we are almost the laughing stock of Latin America," Giordani, 75, said. "If the situation is bad, if the thermometer is at 40 degrees, there are those who blame the thermometer ... We need to acknowledge the crisis, comrades."

Venezuela's ailing economy is Maduro's No. 1 problem. The economy is in recession, inflation is the highest in the Americas, revenues have been cut by half due to the fall in oil prices, and there are shortages of basic products.

Giordani, a Marxist economist nicknamed "the Monk" for his austere lifestyle, was one of Chavez's closest advisers and helped him create Venezuela's state-led economic system. Foes lampooned him as a Soviet-era dinosaur lost in utopian visions and, indeed, still blame him for Venezuela's current problems.

Maduro sacked him from his post as planning minister in mid-2014, after which Giordani publicly criticized the president for lack of leadership and squandering Chavez's legacy.

"Listen, let's stop importing foods, let's produce," he added in the interview, referring to Venezuela's oil dependency and shortages of basic products.

"Stop messing with things that work, it's as if we have the Midas touch in reverse," he added, referring to the mythological King Midas whose touch turned everything to gold.

Giordani also criticized corruption, government bureaucracy, spending profligacy, which he called "fiscal nymphomania", and the "crass mistake" of not publishing central bank data on time.

However, "of course we must defend the revolutionary government ... and the construction of socialism," he added, in the face of "fascist" threats from Venezuela's domestic opponents and the United States.

Some government supporters now call Giordani a traitor.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer; and Peter Galloway

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