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.
Condoms cost as much as an iPhone
A scarcity of condoms has led to a health scare. A 36-pack of trojan condoms costs about $750 online, as much as some iPhones. Venezuela has one of the highest rates for both STDs and teenage pregnancies in South America.
National guardsmen and state price adjusters fanned out across the country on Wednesday to impose a military-style occupation at a supermarket chain to make sure shoppers could buy enough sugar.
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.
Maduro denounces U.S. sanctions
Maduro on Wednesday said Venezuela's Supreme Court was going to issue a ruling to denounce sanctions imposed on some officials by the United States.
Maduro made the announcement while addressing a crowd of soldiers and military personnel on the 23rd anniversary of a 1992 coup attempt led by former leader Hugo Chavez.
"The president of the Supreme Court just informed me that very soon the country's high court is going issue a historic ruling repudiating and rejecting the proposed sanctions by the United States congress and they will lead a mission to South American countries denouncing this imperialistic law. Thank you, madam president of the court," he said during the speech aired on state television.
The condemnation comes after Washington last month imposed visa restrictions on Venezuelan officials involved in alleged human rights abuses and those believed responsible for public corruption in the oil-exporting country.
Maduro quickly slammed the sanctions and called them hypocritical in the latest sign of discord between Washington and Caracas.