Biography of Nicolas Maduro

President of Venezuela 2013-

Nicolas-Maduro-Moros.jpg
Nicolas Maduro.

Nicolas Maduro Moros (b. November 23, 1962) is the current President of Venezuela. He took office in 2013 upon the death of his political mentor, Hugo Chavez. Although he famously once worked as a bus driver, Maduro is a clever, well-connected political survivor who has managed to hang onto power in a Venezuela ravaged by crime, corruption and economic problems. Like Chavez, Maduro is a leftist who favors programs for the poor and governmental control of agencies and media outlets.

Background of Nicolas Maduro

Maduro grew up in Caracas, and had a typical youth. He embraced socialism from an early age. He never attended college, but got a job as a bus driver for the city of Caracas. He was an ambitious young man, however, and soon took over as leader of the city bus drivers’ union.

Supporter of Chavez

Maduro was a supporter of Hugo Chavez long before the latter ever became President. In 1992, Chavez went to prison for leading a coup against the-president Carlos Perez. Maduro was one of thousands who supported Chavez even then, although these supporters had to keep a low profile until Chavez’ election in 1998. Meanwhile, Maduro was an important member of the MBR-200 (Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200), which Chavez had set up to organize his entry into politics. Later, the MBR-200 would morph into a political party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic, and Maduro would hold important posts in the party as well.

Maduro founded a national drivers’ union which also supported Chavez.

Political Career Begins

Maduro was elected to Congress in 1998 and began his term in 1999. Although he was a novice legislator, his unswerving loyalty to Chavez paid off and he was named head of the Movement for a Fifth Republic party bloc in Congress.

He was named to several important congressional committees, including those dealing with social matters, youth and “Civilian Participation.” In 1999 President Chavez decided to re-write the Constitution: Maduro once again held important positions in the constitutional assembly. Under the new constitution, all former Congressmen had to be re-elected: Maduro easily won election as a congressman from Caracas for the 2000-2005 term. 

Chavez’ Biggest Supporter

Chavez proved to politically indestructible: one of those rare politicians who come around only once every generation or so. Chavez was a man of the people, who created housing, social programs and education for the poor at the expense of the middle class and wealthy, who despised him. But the poor rewarded Chavez with their unswerving support, and Chavez always had enough votes to remain in office and keep his stranglehold over the other branches of government. Throughout the decade of the 2000’s, Maduro was Chavez’ most ardent supporter. In 2006 Maduro was named to his highest post thus far: Minister of External Relations. He held this post until 2012 when he was named Vice-President.

Death of Chavez and Ascension of Maduro

Chavez had long battled cancer, and in early 2013 it became clear that he was losing.

Chavez checked into a cancer ward in Cuba and remained there for some time: although the occasional smiling photo was released, it was clear he was very ill. In Venezuela, people were nervous, uncertain about what would happen without the man who had ruled the nation like a dictator since 1999. Chavez died on March 5, 2013, and Maduro stepped in to replace him, even though the Venezuelan constitution seemed to suggest that the Speaker of the National Assembly should legally be the interim president.

2013 Election

With President Chavez dead, elections had to take place within 30 days. The two leading candidates were Maduro and Henrique Capriles, leader of the opposition party and former Governor of the State of Miranda. Maduro repeatedly invoked the image of Chavez, reminding voters that he was Chavez’ political heir.

Capriles ranted and railed against the economic problems and crime plaguing the nation. Maduro won by a very close margin, 50% to 49%, and although Capriles demanded a recount, the results stood. The fact that the election was so close was somewhat shocking, as Maduro had several major advantages, including the “support” of the late president Chavez, a virtual stranglehold on the national media and the power of his office.

Personal Life

Maduro is married to Cilia Flores, a fellow Chavista activist he met while Chavez was in prison for his 1992 coup attempt. He has one son – also named Nicolás – and two grandchildren. He is unusually tall (6’2”/1.9m) for a Venezuelan. He is proud of his blue-collar background, calling himself Venezuela’s first “worker President.” He enjoys baseball and played in a rock band as a teen.

Administration to Date

Maduro has deviated little from the blueprint established by his mentor, Chavez. He has continued programs that favor the poor at the expense of the middle and upper classes. In November of 2013 Maduro’s administration made international headlines by sending military forces to Venezuelan stores to enforce state-lowered prices on appliances such as televisions and washing machines: thousands lined up to buy these items while the owners were jailed for being “capitalist parasites.” Some stores were even broken into and looted. Maduro has also inherited Chavez’ paranoia: he often accuses the CIA of meddling in Venezuelan politics. He blames unnamed “saboteurs” for power outages and ordered the arrest of reporter Jim Wyss of the Miami Herald, who was held for two days before being released.

Maduro has also convinced Congress to grant him special powers to create “emergency” legislation to deal with corruption.

In 2014, Maduro somehow clung to power despite a worsening economy and increased boldness of opposition leaders. Plunging oil prices have pushed the economy to the brink of collapse, and shortages of daily objects in stores have led to hoarding, black marketeering and other social ills. Although Maduro's approval ratings have plummeted, he nevertheless has maintained a firm grip on power thus far.

Challenges for Maduro’s Presidency and the Future of Venezuela

Maduro has an unenviable job. Venezuela is facing serious problems. Although the country has a billion-dollar oil industry, the economy is in ruins. Inflation is rampant and the currency is so unstable that the government has had to create strict controls. International economists believe that the government pressured the Central Bank into releasing reports in December of 2013 that do not accurately reflect the true state of Venezuela’s economy. Crime is at record highs, especially in Caracas. The opposition is gaining strength as the power of Chavez’ ghost fades.

It would be foolish to count Maduro out, however. Maduro inherited much from Chavez, including many friends in the region, including the Castro brothers in Cuba, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Venezuela’s oil industry will prop up a dubious economy for years to come.

Maduro himself is a force to be reckoned with. Much is made of the fact that he once drove a city bus: his detractors insinuate that he is slow-witted, uneducated and in over his head.

None of these are the case. After all, millions of blue-collar Venezuelans gave their unfailing support to Chavez: only Maduro rose from their ranks to become Vice-President under his beloved leader. As for his education, Maduro has now spent much more time in politics than he ever did driving a bus and he knows how to manipulate the people – he learned from one of the best, after all, and has been taking plays out of Chavez’ book for his entire administration. 

Sources:

Nicolas Maduro's Official Biography Page

Maduro's Pyrrhic Victory (the Economist)

Venezuelan Army occupies white goods shops as punishment for 'profiteering.' (the Guardian)

In Venezuela, Campaign takes for of a fire sale (New York Times)