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December 2012, Week 3

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Sat, 15 Dec 2012 15:05:01 -0500
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Micolas Maduro: Hugo Chavez's Incendiary Heir

    Vice-president is seen as a reason to worry - or
    a beacon of hope - in Venezuela

By Virginia Lopez in Caracas
The Guardian( UK)
December 12, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/12/hugo-chavez-heir

Hugo Chavez when he was in prison for leading the failed 
1992 coup. Photograph: Francisco Batista/AP http://tinyurl.com/cc2wukh

At Jose Avalos high school in El Valle, a working-
class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Caracas,
Venezuelan vice-president Nicolas Maduro is mostly
remembered for his signature moustache and for the
brief but inspired speeches of his student days.

The man named by President Hugo Chavez as his
political heir, should he become too ill to govern, is
described as an imposing figure and a conciliatory
force in the classroom by Grisel Rojas, a classmate
during the 1970s.

"He would address us during the assembly to talk
about students' rights and that sort of thing. He
didn't speak much, and wasn't agitating people into
action, but what he did say was usually poignant,"
says Rojas, now 50, and the school's principal.

Chavez, who is in Cuba recovering from his fourth
round of cancer-related surgery, feels Maduro is the
man capable of continuing a political process set in
motion 14 years ago.

The fact that Maduro is not Chavez is giving
Venezuela's highly divided society a reason to worry
or a beacon of hope.

Born in 1962 into a leftist family as the son of a
union leader, Maduro began his political career as
president of the student union at school from where,
records show, he never graduated. He joined the
ranks of the Socialist League and worked as a bus
driver for the Caracas Metro company, where he
followed in his father's footsteps and founded one of
the company's first informal labour syndicates at a
time when the company banned unions.

During the early 1990s, Maduro became a member
of the MBR-200, the civilian wing of Chavez's
insurrectional military movement, often
campaigning for the release of Chavez, who was in
jail for leading the failed 1992 coup.

Maduro became increasingly acquainted with other
members of the growing Chavista political
movement and helped found the Movement of the
Fifth Republic, under which Chavez ran for
president in 1998. During this time he met Cilia
Flores, who headed the legal team that won Chavez
his freedom in 1994, and who later became his wife.
Flores is currently the country's attorney general.

With Chavez coming into power in 1998, Maduro's
political ascent remained steady. In 1999, he was
part of the team that drafted a new constitution and
went on to serve as deputy at the national assembly
until 2000, when he moved on to preside over the
legislative body.

In 2006, Chavez named Maduro minister of foreign
affairs, a post he continues to occupy and from
where he has at times continued Chavez's
incendiary rhetoric. In an regional summit in 2007,
he called the then US secretary of state, Condoleezza
Rice a hypocrite and compared Guantanamo to
atrocities not committed since Hitler's time, after
Rice criticised the Chavez government for the
closing down of a private TV station, but he has also
succeeded in patching up strained relations with
neighbouring Colombia.

"Nicolas is one of the strongest, and best-formed
figures that the PSUV [Venezuela's socialist party]
has. He was a union leader and that has given him
incredibly negotiating abilities and a strong popular
support. Additionally, his time in diplomacy has
polished him and given him exposure", says
Vladimir Villegas who knows Maduro from their
student days and served under him at the foreign
ministry.

While some see the man as an affable and
approachable man of the people, others fear he will
strengthen the country's pro-Cuba ties and deepen
the region's anti-American sentiment.

Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at
Amherst College in the US, says: "Maduro is the
Revolution's most Janus-faced character. On the
one hand, he is one of the PSUV's most convinced
leftist, anti-imperialist radical, and, on the other, he
can be soft-spoken and conciliatory. He is the
architect of the remarkable turnaround of relations
with Colombia in the last two years".

Despite Chavez's endorsement, Maduro must
consolidate his leadership within the ranks of
chavismo, made up of distinct factions from the
military, the radical left and even business, and who
often have nothing in common other than the leader
they might soon lose.

Additionally, Maduro would have to win a
presidential election against an opposition that has
been consistently growing.

Before the October elections that Chavez won with a
comfortable 11-point margin, polls had shown that
the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles would
beat Maduro by six points.

But, say analysts, anything can change with
Chavez's endorsement, which along with a
sympathy vote would most likely increase support
for the vice-president.

Back in the hallways of the Luis Avalos high school,
Rojas is convinced that Maduro is up to the job if
Chavez choses her former classmate to run the
country.

"If Chavez named him, he's the man. Chavez knows
what is best for the country," Rojas says.

___________________________________________

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