CARACAS, Venezuela – The man President Hugo Chavez wants to succeed him is an intensely loyal 50-year-old former bus driver who has long served as the international face of Venezuela whenever the socialist president wasn't soaking up the limelight himself.
NICOLAS MADURO had been foreign minister since 2006. Chavez then tapped him as his vice president three days after winning re-election on Oct. 7
If the cancer-stricken Chavez survives until his Jan. 10 inauguration but dies during the first four years of his term, the constitution says that Maduro would take over temporarily and that new elections should be held within 30 days.
Chavez told Venezuelans on Saturday night if he isn't able to stay on he wants them to elect Maduro as his successor.
TOP DIPLOMAT: Maduro has been a key player in consolidating the ALBA bloc of leftist Latin American nations including Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and others, and in building closer ties with Iran, Russia and China in an effort to counteract U.S. influence. He is thought to have close ties to Cuba's former and current leaders Fidel and Raul Castro.
Chavez has always shown great affection for Maduro, kidding him publicly about the submarine sandwiches the burly foreign minister consumes. The two have been friends since the 1980s, when Chavez formed a clandestine movement that eventually launched a failed 1992 coup.
EARLY YEARS, UNION ORGANIZING: For a diplomat, Maduro is a man of surprisingly few words. Yet he is also one of the few members of Chavez's government who makes public statements on policy.
He got into politics as a teenager, joining the Socialist League, which sent him to Cuba for training in union organizing. He then became a union organizer in the Caracas Metro system.
During Chavez's visits to Cuba for cancer treatment, the mustachioed Maduro was among the few aides at his side.
When Chavez announced Saturday night that he would be returning to Cuba for cancer surgery, Maduro was sitting beside him. The vice president looked solemn and turned to Chavez with slight wrinkles on his brow when the president mentioned his name.