Venezuela's new leader faces daunting task
BY CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER Associated Press
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
3/06/13 at 3:58 AM
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who is taking over leadership of Hugo Chavez's political movement in Venezuela, faces the daunting task of rallying support in a deeply divided country while maintaining unity within his party's ranks.
Maduro decidedly lacks the vibrant personality that made Chavez a one-man political phenomenon in Venezuela, but he has the advantage of being Chavez's hand-picked successor.
The mustachioed 50-year-old former bus driver won Chavez's trust as a loyal spokesman who echoed the president's stances. How Maduro will lead in Chavez's absence remains to be seen, although he's widely known as both a skilled negotiator and a leader who views upholding his mentor's legacy as his personal crusade and responsibility.
Earlier Tuesday before the announcement of Chavez's death, Maduro used a belligerent tone as he announced the government had expelled two U.S. diplomats from the country and said "we have no doubt" that Chavez's cancer, which was first diagnosed in June 2011, was induced by "the historical enemies of our homeland."
He accused U.S. Embassy's Air Force attache Col. David Delmonaco of spying on Venezuela's military and seeking to involve officers in "destabilizing projects." Maduro gave Delmonaco 24 hours to leave, and U.S. officials said he had already departed the country.
Later Tuesday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said a second U.S. Air Force attache was being expelled, also for alleged espionage.
In Washington, President Barack Obama affirmed American support for the Venezuelan people and a constructive relationship with their government. He said that the U.S. is committed to promoting democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law.
One of the biggest tasks Maduro will likely face is attempting to hold together a diverse movement that includes radical leftists, moderates and many current and former military officers.
Analysts have speculated that differences might emerge between factions led by Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, the influential National Assembly president who is thought to wield power within the military. But thus far both men have denied such divisions and vowed to remain united.
Maduro has shown how he could attempt to continue Chavez's socialist-inspired project. Speaking at one December rally, he vowed in vague terms to maintain policies that have angered the country's leading business federation, Fedecamaras, which was long at odds with the president.
"We aren't going to give dollars to Fedecamaras. What we're going to give them is pains, headaches with this Bolivarian Revolution," Maduro shouted, his voice hoarse. "I swear to you ... we're never going to betray the people of Venezuela!"
Maduro is expected to keep promoting programs such as free medical clinics staffed by Cuban doctors and subsidized food stores, which have endeared the president with the country's vast numbers of poor. Maduro has vowed to block a return to past policies that he said had benefited the wealthy.
Original Print Headline: Successor has promised to carry out Chavez policies
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro addresses the nation from Miraflores presidential palace during a meeting Tuesday in Caracas. AP/Miraflores Presidential Press Office