Courtesy of Cubadebate, a thorough (and very impressive) profile of the acting (and future!) president of Venezuela:
Nicolás Maduro stands a robust 6 feet 4 inches tall, with black hair and a thick mustache. He drove a Metrobus in Caracas for more than seven years, was foreign minister for another six, and now is acting president and presidential candidate for all Venezuela. He is part of the new generation of Latin American leaders who, like metallurgical worker Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or coca-growers’ unionist Evo Morales, entered politics from the social trenches of the opposition.
Maduro is a socialist revolutionary who modified his original orthodox training to join the heterodox hurricane of the Bolivarian Revolution. He is a man of the left who came to power without abandoning his principles. A loyal collaborator of Hugo Chávez, who did the same himself, he is now in the driver’s seat of one of the most profound processes of transformation in Latin America.
Politics run in Maduro’s blood, and he breathed them from his first days. He was born in 1962 in Caracas, to a family deeply committed to collective public action. His father was a founding member of the social-democratic Acción Democrática party (AD), and organizer of a failed oil workers’ strike against the dictatorship in 1952, which obliged him to flee and go into hiding.
In 1967 Maduro attended meetings of a leftist AD splinter group, the People’s Electoral Movement, along with his parents, and a year later, the massive and popular rallies in support of the candidacy of Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa. In that campaign, Maduro came to know the world of poverty, and that of cardboard houses. And, for the first time, he spoke in public, when his father set him on the roof of a car with a microphone.
Aside from parental influence, Maduro had his own political opinions from a very young age. In his fourth year of primary school, he defended the Cuban Revolution against the criticisms of the nuns who taught in his school. As punishment, he was expelled from the classroom for three days and spent his detention in the school library — in reality, a prize for a restless boy who devoured every book he could find.
Far from being cured over the passage of time, his political precocity grew. At 12 years of age, and as a junior-high-school student, he began to militate without his parents’ knowledge in the Ruptura movement, a public wing of the revolutionary project of the guerrilla leader Douglas Bravo. Youthful exuberance was the sign of the times. From then on, young Nicolás participated without interruption in neighborhood politics, in the formation of movie clubs, in union movements, and in popular armed conspiracies.
As bassist of the rock group Enigma, he saw how many young people of his generation in the barrios got roped into the world of easy money and the drug culture, becoming addicts and getting killed in the gang wars. The experience marked him for life.
Nicolás Maduro, like Hugo Chávez, is a big-time baseball player (third base); however, unlike the Comandante, who was a terrible dancer, Maduro acquits himself reasonably well at dancing salsa.
His participation in popular movements was his university. Like many other members of his generation, his intellectual formation is directly associated with his involvement in the mass revolutionary struggle. He studied the classics of Marxism and analyzed and interpreted Venezuelan reality by the light of those teachings. Gifted with an extraordinary capacity for learning, he has been at the same time self-taught and a leader instructed by years of participation in organized politics. Until the triumph of Chavismo he regularly suffered police persecution and lived, literally, on the brink of death.
He participated in the Revolutionaries’ Organization and in its open wing, the Socialist League, a Marxist revolutionary group, an offshoot of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR). Its founder, Jorge Rodríguez, was assassinated by the intelligence services in 1976. Maduro distinguished himself there as a brilliant organizer and mass political agitator.
In 1991, he began working for the Metro de Caracas. Outgoing, affable, committed to workers’ rights and charismatic, he was elected by his comrades as their union representative. His calling to democratic unionism and class struggle resulted in his being frequently suspended by the bus company. The Caracazo of 1989 had left him with the memory of the haunting sounds of the poor crying in the streets, lamenting the murders of their family members.
Maduro came to know Hugo Chávez the same way as most Venezuelans: he saw him on TV when the latter assumed responsibility for the military uprising of 1992. More than a year later, on December 16, 1993, he met him personally in jail, along with a group of workers. The lieutenant-colonel gave him the clandestine name of Verde, and put him in charge of diverse conspiratory tasks. When Chavez was freed, in 1994, Maduro devoted himself full-time to the organization of the Bolivarian movement.
The now acting president was part of the National Constituent Assembly in 1999, writing the new Constitution. A year later he was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy. In January 2006 he was named president of the Legislative Power, and a few months later, stepped down to become minister of Exterior Relations. As foreign minister he became a central figure in the project to build a multipolar world, press for Latin American integration, and building peace. From there, he went on to become vice-president and, as of a few days ago, acting president.
Maduro is married to Cilia Flores, a lawyer nine years older than himself. A leading figure of Chavismo in her own right, she has been president of the National Assembly, vice-president of the PSUV, and procurator of the Republic. They have one son, Nicolás Ernesto, a flutist, as well as a grandson.
Chosen by Hugo Chávez as his political successor, Nicolás Maduro will face the test of the vote on April 14. If he wins, he will have the job of being the new driver of the Bolivarian Revolution, resolving problems such as public insecurity and corruption, and continuing the legacy of the Comandante, radicalizing and innovating at the same time.
So, for those of you wondering what Chavismo will look like without Chávez, there you have it. It looks to be about 6-foot-4, with a good head of hair and a black mustache…and, like Chavecito, a natural-born leader who came, not from the traditional ruling class, but up from below, fighting and scrapping and kicking ass all the way.
In other words, not bad. Not bad at all.