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Published: Thursday June 26, 2014 MYT 7:30:02 AM
Updated: Thursday June 26, 2014 MYT 7:31:12 AM

Venezuela ruling party suspends leader for echoing criticism - media

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party has suspended one of its directors for echoing a former official's recent criticism over corruption, local media reported on Wednesday, a sign President Nicolas Maduro is facing growing dissent from his own ranks.

Hector Navarro said he was disciplined for backing statements by former Planning Minister Jorge Giordani that accused Maduro of failing to stem multibillion-dollar fraud via currency controls, according to media reports.

The string of critiques marks a sharp divergence from the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, whose insistence on military-style obedience helped maintain discipline within an often unruly coalition.

"I've been officially informed that the National Board (which has not met for a month) has decided to send me to the party's Disciplinary Tribunal," Navarro wrote in a message to university activists that was cited by local media.

Navarro, who served as electricity minister and education minister under Chavez, wrote that he had been relieved of his duties while the party discusses sanctions against him.

Neither he nor Socialist Party leaders were immediately available for comment, but Maduro in a televised address appeared to confirm the news, without specifically mentioning Navarro, railing against "infidels" who "failed as ministers."

"I am going ... to demand more loyalty and discipline from the national directorate of the PSUV and anyone who disagrees can leave, simple," he said, adding those wearing "leftist clothes" but trying to "confound" would find him in their way.

"I won't be subject again to anyone over economic policy. I think about it, I study it and the decisions are mine," he said.

In an earlier letter published on Tuesday, Navarro expressed solidarity with Giordani and criticized those among the ruling coalition who passed him off as a traitor.

"Is Giordani a traitor because, for example, he denounced the distribution of dollars to shell companies and proposed a plan of action to prevent this from continuing?" he wrote.

Authorities acknowledge the embezzlement of $20 billion to $30 billion through fraud involving the country's foreign exchange controls. This often involved companies obtaining subsidized dollars to import consumer goods and then selling them on the black market at a huge profit or stashing them in offshore accounts.

Maduro has loosened the controls as part of his broader macroeconomic reforms, but rules out scrapping them.

The president this year weathered three months of opposition protests demanding his resignation, and his grip on the presidency does not appear to be in jeopardy.

But the criticism has highlighted Maduro's struggles in living up the to legendary charisma of the late Chavez, whose combative oratory and generous social spending made him one of the continent's most popular leaders.

It also renews focus on the creaking system of state economic controls as inflation soars above 60 percent and the growth slows sharply.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; editing by G Crosse and Bernard Orr)

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