September 8, 2008 / 6:54 PM / 10 years ago

High-profile Venezuelan minister quits

CARACAS, Sept 8 (Reuters) - A top aide to President Hugo Chavez who helped win the release of rebel-held hostages but failed to change voters’ perceptions that crime is out of control in Venezuela resigned on Monday.

Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez, who had one of the most high-profile roles in Chavez’s Cabinet since taking up his post in January, said he quit for “strictly personal reasons” and remained loyal to the president’s socialist government.

Rodriguez was part of a team of aides brought in this year to improve the image of the government. In 2007, the Cabinet earned a reputation as ineffective while Venezuelans struggled with food shortages despite an oil-fueled economic boom.

The minister frequently held news conferences releasing data aimed at showing the government was beating crime. But polls show that crime remains voters’ overwhelming concern ahead of regional elections in November. Venezuela has one of the world’s worst murder rates.

Rodriguez, who participated in a failed coup in 1992, typically wore a red shirt to symbolize Chavez’s “revolution.”

He recorded successes early on his post by flying into Colombia’s jungles to receive hostages from leftist rebels whom he hugged and called “comrades.” But his reputation was tainted in the following months.

Media reported that rebel computer files seemed to link him to illegal activity with the guerrillas. Then Chavez rescinded a spy law Rodriguez drafted, saying it would have forced Venezuelans to snitch on their neighbors.

Chavez has frequently shuffled his Cabinets since coming to office in 1999, but has kept his team relatively stable this year.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Saul Hudson; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

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