Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Hugo Chavez is dead.Now, it seems likely that Nicolás Maduro, his Vice President and the man Chavez groomed to succeed him, will be the new interim president.
The world got a taste of Maduro’s style today with a rambling, conspiracy-fuelled speech — accusing the U.S. of espionage, right wing groups of sabotage, and saying that Chavez was probably poisoned.
But what else do we know about him?
In December, Peter Wilson wrote for Foreign Policy about Maduro’s “meteoric rise from bus driver to union leader,” describing how he rose from Caracas poverty to become one of Chavez’s most trusted men.
Maduro first became a supporter of Chavez before his 1992 coup attempt. When Chavez eventually came to power in 1999 he became a legislator, and went on to become foreign minister in 2006 — one of his most memorable moments was a 2007 rant that accused the US of “total madness” and plotting war against Iran.
He was elevated to vice president by Chavez last year, a move that many took to be Chavez anointing him as his heir. His humble beginnings have worked in his favour, and he remains one of the most popular members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
What can we expect from him? Experts describe a relatively calm man who may not be a natural leader. According to The New York Times, his friends describe him as “a man who laughs loudly, who likes to eat submarine sandwiches and overfilled arepas, who enjoys cigars and baseball.”
“It’s impossible to expect Maduro to be another Chávez,” Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College and the author of “The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela,” told Wilson. “Instead he represents continuity with the policies and programs that the president has promoted. This is still very much an evolving process with much still unclear.”
“He’s known as a yes man, and he’s somebody that has never shown an independent streak,” David Smilde, a senior fellow of the Washington Office on Latin America, told the New York Times in December. “That’s what has been key for him, always put the light on Chávez.”
Another bigger question is whether Maduro will actually be able to claim the presidency. Diosdado Cabello, speaker in Venezuela’s congress and a hardline Chavez ally, may himself make a run for the presidency or attempt to become the interim president, forcing Chavez’s party into conflict with itself.
And either way, Venezuela’s constitution calls for an election in 30 days.
Perhaps in preparation for conflict, Maduro has called the military to the streets of Venezuela.
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