He once drove a bus across the gritty streets of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, and later rose through the ranks of the trade union movement.
Now Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s tall, broad-shouldered 50-year-old vice president, has been anointed as the possible successor to President Hugo Chavez, should the populist leader’s recurring cancer force him from power.
The president’s decision to name Maduro as his heir astonished the oil-rich country, where many view Chavez as a messiah-like leader with no equal after 14 years in power.
In a dramatic televised address Saturday, Chavez extolled Maduro as having the “heart of a man of the people.” With Maduro seated at his left, Chavez said he had proved his mettle by loyally serving the government for years, the past six as foreign minister, hopscotching the globe.
“He is a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work, for leading, for handling the most difficult situations,” said Chavez, 58, a former lieutenant colonel who took office in 1999. “I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it.”