June 18, 2013
Maduro: from bus driver to Chavez's successor
Former bus driver and union leader Nicolás Maduro followed a simple strategy when he filled in for cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez over the past three months: copy his boss's policies, his style and even his fierce rhetoric.
Now, Maduro will almost certainly stick with the same approach as he tries to win a presidential election and inherit Chávez's self-styled socialist revolution.
Maduro rose to the job of vice president precisely because he was a firm Chávez loyalist and he has so far given no hints that he might make significant policy changes if he is elected.
Knowing he might not recover, Chavez named the burly, mustachioed Maduro as his heir apparent in early December before flying to Cuba for his fourth cancer operation in 18 months.
The move turned Maduro, who had served for six years as foreign minister but was named vice president only a few weeks earlier, into the OPEC nation's de facto leader.
Although unable to come anywhere near to matching Chavez's famous charisma, Maduro has copied his hectoring style, grand historical references and vitriolic attacks on "treacherous" opponents.
"Chavez has shown us a superior human state: socialism," Maduro, 50, said in adoring comments during one of dozens of appearances on state television.
"We are absolutely firm on the goals, plans and spirit of this program ... Our people want to continue consolidating a socially inclusive model that gives protection to all, economic stability and progress, and true democracy."
Like Chavez, Maduro has accused foes of plotting to assassinate him and blamed private businesses for causing Venezuela's economic problems with hoarding and what he denounces as "speculative attacks" on the bolivar currency.
Hours before Chavez's death, Maduro accused "imperialist" enemies of infecting Chavez with cancer - the kind of headline-grabbing allegations against powerful foes that Chavez often used to whip up supporters during his 14 years of tumultuous rule.
As foreign minister, Maduro had a fairly dull image as a loyalist who never diverted from Chavez's line, although some saw him as an affable potential moderate who could use his talents as a union negotiator turned globe-trotting diplomat to build bridges with critics at home and abroad.
At times he has softened his rhetoric - for example, saying that it was only a "small number" of opposition figures who were "conspiring against the fatherland" - but he has taken a tough line more often than not.
If Maduro wins the election, he is expected to broadly continue the radical policies of the Chavez era, including nationalizations, tight state control of the economy and financial support for allies such as communist-led Cuba.
There is plenty of speculation that he might at some point try to ease tensions with business groups and the US government, but so far there is no firm evidence.
Still, his first priority is to win the election and that means marshalling support from across Chavez's coalition, which ranges from leftist ideologues to businessmen, and military officers to hardline armed groups called "colectivos." It would be much more difficult if he openly proposed a new direction.