Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his cancer is back and before returning to Havana for treatment, he left Vice President Nicolas Maduro in charge. Under Venezuela’s constitution, if the president dies, the vice president assumes the presidency until new elections can be held.
Chavez said, “If something were to happen that would incapacitate me. .. My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is … that you elect Nicolas Maduro as president. .. I ask this of you from my heart. He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I cannot.”
Political analysts said the announcement appeared designed to signal Chavez’s strong support for one man and to quell Maduro’s rivals within the president’s movement, known as Chavismo.
Maduro, 50, began his career as a bus driver. He became a union leader while working for the Caracas metro system. After Chavez came to power in 1999, he participated in an assembly that drafted a new constitution. He went on to serve as a congressman until 2006, when he rose to become Venezuela’s foreign minister, then vice president.
His longtime partner, Cilia Flores, is the country’s attorney general and former National Assembly president.
As foreign minister, Maduro took Venezuela further away from the U.S. and grew ties with Cuba. In his youth, he belonged to a small political group called the Socialist League and traveled to Cuba for training in union organizing. To this day, Maduro is considered the aide with the closest links to the Cuban government within Chavez’s inner circle.
Maduro was also behind Venezuela’s support for Libya, and allied with Russia and China.
But he was also the frontman in the conciliatory turnaround in relations with Colombia.
As president, Maduro could develop dialogue with the business leaders, as his union experience taught him. Wall Street investors, drawn to Venezuela’s highly traded bonds, as well as oil companies seeking greater access to the world’s largest crude reserves, are watching closely.
But Maduro could face a widely expected currency devaluation, a price hike for heavily subsidized fuel, and cuts in state spending after Chavez’s lavish campaign that helped him win re-election in October. Likewise, Maduro will need to address crime, inflation, and unemployment.
Maduro will also face intense pressure from ideological radicals and self-interested profiteers who have enriched themselves under Chavez’s government.
In Maduro’s first speech after being named successor, he tearfully said, “We are eternally grateful to Chavez … we will be loyal to Chavez beyond this lifetime.” He invoked independence heroes, shouted triumphant slogans, and then lowered his voice for dramatic effect in hallmark Chavez style.
“We are the children of Chavez,” he said.