Nicolas Maduro: the man who would be Chavez

Nicolas Maduro, the man hand-picked by Hugo Chavez as his successor, is now the newly elected president of Venezuela.

Venezuela elects new leader

Nicolas Maduro raises his fist during his closing presidential campaign rally in Caracas April 11. Maduro narrowly won the April 14 vote. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters)

Venezuela's voters have narrowly chosen Nicolas Maduro to lead the country down the path established by Hugo Chavez, who died March 5.

During the short election campaign, Maduro referred to Chavez as the "Christ of the poor of America," and himself as Chavez’s son.

Since moving into the leadership role during Chavez's last and fatal fight against cancer, Maduro has been trying to emulate Chavez's style and persona, a role that people who know him suggest is not something that comes naturally to Maduro.

Maduro's connection to Chavez goes back at least to 1992, when Lt.-Col. Chavez led a failed military coup.

Last year, while naming Maduro as his choice to succeed him, Chavez described him as "a true revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, of a great dedication to work, and a great capacity to conduct groups, to manage difficult situations."

"I have him seen him do it," Chavez added.

Baseball player, rock musician, socialist

Nicolas Maduro Moros was born in Caracas, the capital city, in 1962. His father was a union leader, and Nicolas would follow in his footsteps.

During high school – specifically Liceo Jose Avalos, in a working-class neighborhood of Caracas – Maduro was active in student politics and president of the student union.

Grisel Rojas says her former classmate "would address us during the assembly to talk about students' rights and that sort of thing." Now the school's principal, Rojas went on to tell The Guardian newspaper last year that Maduro "didn't speak much, and wasn't agitating people into action, but what he did say was usually poignant."

According to the Guardian, school records show he never graduated.

Maduro was apparently a busy man. He was also active in socialist politics, had a talent for baseball and performed in a rock band called Enigma. A 1983 video of Enigma performing on a TV show was uploaded to YouTube in March.

A 2006 confidential cable from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, made public by WikiLeaks, says he was on the national committee of the Socialist League and he "reportedly turned down a baseball contract from a U.S. Major League Baseball scout."

He got a job with the Caracas Metro, with the goal of organizing a labour union. That union, SITRAMECA, would be the first one at the Metro. In October 2012, when he appointed Maduro vice-president, Chavez recalled those days. "Look where he's going, Nicolas the bus driver. He drove a bus for the Metro, and how the bourgeoisie mocked him."

In 1986, through the Socialist League, Maduro received a scholarship in Cuba to study union organizing.

The U.S. Embassy cable states that Maduro was a civilian coordinator in Chavez's unsuccessful 1992 attempted coup but the two did not meet until the following year, when Chavez was in prison.

Venezuela's power couple

Maduro and his partner and campaign manager Cilia Flores wave after registering Maduro's candidacy for president, in Caracas, March 11. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

It was around this time that Maduro met lawyer Cilia Flores, who was then trying to secure Chavez's release from prison. The two apparently would hit it off, and are now life companions, as Maduro describes their relationship.

Flores is also a major figure in Venezuelan politics, making them a power couple to rival Bill and Hillary Clinton in the U.S.

Flores was born in Tinaquillo, Venezuela in 1953, making her nine years Maduro’s senior. They have a son, also named Nicolas, and Flores has three sons from a previous marriage.

Flores founded the Bolivarian Human Rights Circle in 1993, and after helping win Chavez's release from prison in 1994, she became active in Chavez's new political movement, as did Maduro.

The movement soon transformed into a political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, to contest the 1998 presidential election. Maduro and Flores were founding members, and of course Chavez was the candidate.

After Chavez's triumph at the polls, both Maduro and Flores would go on to win seats in parliamentary elections. Maduro would continue his union organizing as national coordinator of the pro-government Bolivarian Federation of Workers (FBT).

However, when Maduro ran in 1999 for president of Venezuela's largest labour union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), he lost.

El Grupo de Boston

In 2002, Chavez was briefly overthrown in a coup but a popular uprising quickly returned him to the presidency. Shortly after that, both the Organization of American States (OAS) and a group of U.S. politicians would make separate attempts at achieving some kind of reconciliation between the government and opposition.

Former U.S. congressman William Delahunt says he knows Maduro well. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, speaks with Delahunt during a meeting at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, March 19, 2009. (Miraflores Press Office/Associated Press)

The latter became known as "el Grupo de Boston." Then-U.S. Congressman William Delahunt was one of the organizers and got to know Maduro well. Flores also participated.

Delahunt told CBC News that the idea was to "get them out of Venezuela, the glare of the media where everyone felt they had to posture, bring them to Washington and then I would bring them up to Boston and we would spend five days together in my district, in Cape Cod."

John Kerry, who's now U.S. secretary of state, was one of the politicians who talked to el Grupo, as was Senator Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy invited the group to visit the family compound at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. Delahunt says it was a moving moment for the Venezuelan politicians, and "they were really impressed."

Delahunt describes Maduro as "a very intelligent guy," adding that he "has excellent political instincts, a keen intellect and his own style and his own charisma."

Delahunt, Chavez and Maduro met privately together and during those meetings Delahunt says the two Venezuelans had "a very comfortable, a very easy give-and-take, ... there was humour involved, there was camaraderie, a very human connection and the conversations were substantive."

Delahunt describes Flores as "a strong woman, a woman that's a force in Venezuelan politics." Maduro told a campaign rally, "She has a fiery character."

The couple are said to be followers of the controversial swami, Sathya Sai Baba. In 2005, they had an audience with him in India. (Baba died in 2011.) According to the swami’s trust, Maduro "always had a photograph of Baba in his office."

In 2008, Chavez surprised political observers when he revealed that Maduro has Jewish heritage. In his campaign biography, Maduro describes himself as "a Christian and a humanist."

Foreign minister

Jennifer McCoy, right, has known Nicolas Maduro for about a decade. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and McCoy, director of the Carter Center, hold a press conference in Caracas Dec. 4, 1998, as part of their efforts in Venezuela to monitor the December 6 presidential elections. (Reuters)

Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center and Georgia State University has met Maduro multiple times over the last 10 years. She has been in Venezuela monitoring the vote. McCoy first met him when he was part of the Dialogue Group that the OAS and the Carter Center set up after the 2002 coup.

"In private conversations he certainly exhibited the capacity to think pragmatically and be creative and to be willing to talk and negotiate," McCoy told CBC News.

Maduro became president of the National Assembly in 2005 and then Foreign Minister in 2006. At the time of the latter appointment, the U.S. embassy cabled Washington to say that Maduro had used the assembly presidency "as a platform to deliver some of the [government's] most outrageous, public anti-American attacks."

The embassy went on to call the new foreign minister "an anti-American apparatchik [sic]."

After three more years of dealing with him, the embassy would write about "A relaxed and courteous Foreign Minister Maduro," who wants to avoid controversies and achieve "a more regular bilateral relationship" with the U.S.

Flores followed her husband as assembly president, the first woman to hold that office. Another U.S. embassy cable describes her as "a fanatical defender of the Chavez administration." She would later become Attorney General, a post she left in March to head Maduro's election campaign.

McCoy says that Maduro "certainly gained a lot of experience through the years in his different positions and he's become more polished so that now he presents a very polished image."

She also notes his key role in re-normalizing relations with Colombia and helping set up Colombian government talks with the country's most important guerilla army, the FARC. As president, Maduro says he will "continue our energetic support of the peace talks in Colombia."

Emulating Chavez

Supporters of Maduro hold up placards and a cardboard figure of him during his closing campaign rally in Caracas on April 11. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters )

While Maduro has a rather different personality from Chavez, " it looks like he's been emulating Chavez's leadership style," a style that was very successful, McCoy observes.

So far it has not been easy to say what Maduro's leadership style will be. "Since he's been with Chavez, he's been such a faithful colleague of Chavez and a proponent of his ideas, it's difficult to know what his ideas are, separate from Chavez's," McCoy explains.

Maduro writes in the Guardian that his primary objectives as president are to target Venezuela’s out-of-control crime rate, as well as government inefficiency and corruption. He says his government will "deepen regional integration and fight poverty and social injustice."