Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday named a top official targeted by US sanctions as oil minister as the market for the country's vital export is in tumult.
Maduro tasked Tareck El Aissami -- a vice president for the economy who has been indicted in the United States on drugs trafficking charges -- with "restructuring and reorganization" of the OPEC member's crippled oil industry.
Maduro also named Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of the late president Hugo Chavez, as interim president of the state oil firm PDVSA.
El Aissami replaces Manuel Quevedo, a general given the twin responsibilities of oil minister and PDVSA chief in 2017.
The United States in 2017 designated El Aissami as having played "a significant role in international narcotics trafficking" and placed him on a most-wanted fugitives list in August last year.
"In his previous positions, he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States," the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) said on its website.
El Aissami declared his innocence and denounced the move as "a dirty trick."
The United States has been seeking for more than a year to oust Maduro, a leftist who presides over a crumbling economy. Along with some 60 other countries Washington recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed support for Guaido in a telephone call Monday, the US State Department said.
The two discussed a new US-proposed "framework" that calls for both Guaido and Maduro to step aside temporarily for a transitional government that would hold fresh elections.
Pompeo also "condemned the Maduro regime's increased repression of Venezuela's democratic actors and of doctors and journalists telling the truth about the COVID-19 response," the State Department said.
- Hit hard by oil price -
The price of Venezuelan oil fell to below $10 a barrel last Friday -- its lowest level in more than two decades.
Venezuela is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues, which account for around 96 percent of its income.
But oil prices have been sliding since 2014, exacerbating the country's ongoing economic crisis that has pushed almost five million Venezuelans to leave the country, according to UN figures.
Maduro's government blames US sanctions, including sanctions on PDVSA, for the crisis.
The United States has tried either to persuade nations, including Russia and India, from buying Venezuelan oil.
Although the South American country has the world's largest oil reserves, the country's oil sector suffers from corruption and lack of investment in upgrades and maintenance, according to analysts and the Venezuelan opposition.