Hugo Chavez was a controversial figure but a global figure nonetheless. Using Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, Chavez fueled alliances with countries such as Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba, while adopting a rampant anti-American and anti-capitalist rhetoric which launched him as a well-known international player. Over Chavez’s 14 year reign, Venezuela has become a political system with less checks and balances, high crime rate, polarization and a volatile economy. Although Chavez has been immortalized in the international community as a “saint of the poor” the reality of the unstable country is that- regardless of having the largest oil reserves in the planet- Venezuela has seen the lowest GDP per capita rate and highest inflation of any Latin American country except Haiti. It has also experienced a surge in crime, giving it one of highest murder rate in the world. The next president elect will not only have to live in the shadow of the vibrant and larger-than-life Hugo Chavez, but he will have to face these catastrophic conditions.
As an uneasy quiet continues to resonate over the populous capital of Caracas, eyes are on Nicoolas Maduro, the Venezuelan Vice-President and the man Hugo Chavez told his followers before his departure to Cuba for surgery, would be his “successor”. According to the constitution, elections in Venezuela are supposed to be held in 30 days and Maduro will be facing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.
Not much is known about the man that might take the reigns of the oil-rich country. Here are the top 10 facts you need to know about Nicholas Maduro:
1. He Used to be a Bus Driver
Maduro, was born in 1952 and raised in Buenos Aires . Although he had a dream to start a career in music (he was a Led Zeppelin fan) , he instead worked as a bus driver. Holding only a high school degree, the bus driving job actually began his political career as he became an unofficial trade-unionist during the 1970s and 1980s.
2. He Had a Major Role in Releasing Hugo Chavez from Prison in 1994
After Hugo Chavez led a failed coup in 1992 in attempt to seize control of the government of Venezuela, the military leader landed himself in prison. It was this incarceration that catapulted Chavez into the political spotlight. Nicholas Maduro had an important role in promoting and securing Chavez’ release from prison in 1994. In fact, Maduro’s lawyer wife, Cilia Flores led Chavez’s defense.
3. He Blamed Chavez’ Enemies for Giving Him Cancer
Maduro announced in a live address to the nation that Chavez’s cancer was caused by a purposeful attack by enemies. Maduro asserted that there is “scientific evidence” that Hugo Chavez was inoculated with cancer by “historical enemies” of the Bolivarian Revolution. Who are these “historical enemies” that have been able to obtain the biological superpower to infect people with cancer? According to Maduro it is the Venezuelan opposition and the United States who have joined forces in this calculated cancer “conspiracy” to destabilize Chavez’s 14 year regime. I guess for the Maduro the C.I.A actually stands for Cancer Inoculation Agency.
4. He Has Kicked Out American Diplomats From Venezuela
In the same address Maduro accused enemies of infecting Chavez with cancer, Maduro also pronounced the expulsion of 2 American diplomats including David del Monaco, and Air Attaché Deblin Costal for being implicated in “conspiracy plans”. “They have 24 hours to pack their bags and leave,” said Maduro. The US has since denied these accusations.
5. There Was Someone Else in Mind as Successor
Chavez’s endorsement of Maduro sidelined National Assembly chief; Diosdado Cabello, a military man and Socialist Party official, with ties to the armed forces. Diosdado had been considered a top candidate as Chavez’s successor. Diosdado has since pledged loyalty to both Chavez and Maduro. Having said that, the absence of Diosdado Cabello in Tuesday’s televised press conference reignited rumors of a rift between the two politicians They have dismissed these accusations.
6. Maduro Was Minister of Foreign Affairs
Maduro was Minister of Foreign Affairs and has supported a number of Venezuela’s most controversial foreign policy stances, including the country’s support for Libya under Muammar Gaddafi. These facts give little hope for change in Venezuela’s international stance.
7. Like Chavez, Maduro has Befriended the Castro Family
Maduro has not only been politically close with Cuba but he is a friend of the Castro family. Chavez’s and Fidel’s longstanding friendship is no secret and it seems as though Maduro followed suite. As stated in the Guardian, this close link to Cuba suggests that Maduro will not cut the subsided oil supplies to the island, as well as several other left-leaning nations.
8. Maduro had the Reputation of Being an “Approachable Pragmatist”
Maduro used a hold a reputation that contrasted Chavez’s “pugnacious style”. He was considered to be soft-spoken and an approachable pragmatist. But this reputation has been shattered over the past few months as he’s acted as Venezuela’s de facto leader. As stated in the Guardian, “Since becoming vice president opponents have mocked Maduro for doing a “bad imitation” of his boss [Chavez].”
9. The US has Reached Out to Maduro
It is no secret that the US and Venezuela have had a rocky relationship over the past years. But since Maduro began running the country, the US has reached out in hopes of reconciliation. These efforts have clearly been thwarted as Maduro has since come out to accuse the United States of poisoning Chavez with Cancer and of being involved in conspiracy plots in Venezuela. In a televised address he referred to the US as “old enemies” of “the fatherland”.
10. Chavez Named Him His Successor
Fearing his imminent death, Chavez had to call a successor Before Chavez left for Cuba to go go through surgery, he hosted a televised address. In it he addressed the question in everyone’s mind; who will take over if Hugo Chavez dies? Chavez stated:
“….in the case that presidential election would be called, you all should elect Nicolas Maduro as President of the Bolivarian Republics of Venezuela”
Maduro now faces the difficult task of rallying support in a deeply divided country while maintaining unity in his part.
But people everywhere are wondering if Maduro has the ability to escape from the shadow cast from the iconic Hugo Chavez. Will adopting Chavez’ ideology be enough? Can there be a “Chavismo” without “Chavez”? Nothing is for sure. Venezuelan politics is changing, but we don’t know how just yet.