By Luis Hernández Navarro – La Jorna
Nicolas Maduro is a robust, burly man, 1.9 meters tall with a thick black moustache. He drove a metro bus in Caracas for seven years, was foreign minister for six more and is now interim president and candidate for the country’s top office. He is part of the a generation of Latin American leaders like metal worker Lula da Silva and coco-leaf unionist Evo Morales, that entered politics from the trenches of opposition social struggles [translator: in opposition to the neoliberal administrations which governed Latin America before the continent’s ‘pink tide’, which began in the late 1990’s].
Maduro is a socialist revolutionary who modified his original orthodox position to join the heterodox hurricane of the Bolivarian revolution. He’s a man of the left who arrived to power without abandoning his principles. He is a self-made man, a loyal ally of Hugo Chavez and today is at the wheel of one of the deepest processes of transformation in Latin America.
Politics is in his blood, and he breathed it from his earliest days. Maduro was born in Caracas in 1962, into the heart of a family very committed to collective public action. His father was a founder of the party Democratic Action (AD) [founded in 1941] and organiser of the failed oil strike against the dictatorship in 1952, which forced him to flee and go into hiding.
In 1967 Maduro went with his parents to the rallies of the People’s Electoral Movement, a left split-off from AD, and a year later he attended the massive grassroots acts of support for the (presidential) candidacy of Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa. In this campaign Maduro became acquainted with the world of poverty [and] cardboard shacks. He also spoke in public for the first time, when his father put him on top of a car with a microphone.
Aside from parental influence, from a young age Maduro had his own political opinions. In 4th grade of primary school he defended the Cuban revolution against the criticisms of the monks who taught him. He was excluded from the classroom for three days and condemned to serve out his punishment in the library, which in reality was a reward for a restless boy who devoured any book he had before him.
Far from curing himself with the passing of time, his early interest in politics increased. When he was twelve years old and a high school student, he began to participate, unbeknown to his parents, in the Rupture movement, an open structure of the revolutionary project of Douglas Bravo. Youthful effervescence was the symbol of the times. From then he participated without interruption in community struggles, the organisation of cinema clubs, in union movements and armed grassroots conspiracies.
As a bassist in the rock group Enigma, he saw how many youths of his generation in the barrios became hooked into the world of easy money and drug culture, then becoming addicted and assassinated in gang wars. The experience marked him for life.
Nicolas Maduro, the same as Hugo Chavez, is a great baseball player – third base. However, unlike the comandante, who was a terrible dancer, he manages reasonably well when it’s time to dance salsa.
Participation in popular movements was his university. As with many other activists of his generation, his intellectual formation is directly associated with his involvement in the mass and revolutionary struggle. He studied the classics of Marxism and analysed and interpreted Venezuelan reality in light of their teachings. Gifted with an extraordinary capacity for learning, he has simultaneously been self-didactic and a leader instructed by years of organised political participation. Until the [electoral] triumph of Chavismo he regularly suffered police persecution, and lived, literally, one jump from death.
He participated in the Organisation of Revolutionaries, and in its open expression, the Socialist League: a Marxist revolutionary grouping born from a break with the Revolutionary Left Movement. Its founder, Jorge Rodriguez, was assassinated by the intelligence services in 1976. There, Maduro stood out as a brilliant organiser and political agitator of the masses.
In 1991 he began to work with the Caracas Metro. Outgoing, affable, charismatic, and committed to workers’ interests, he was elected by his co-workers as union representative. His vocation for democratic and class trade unionism meant that he was frequently sanctioned by the company. Following the 1989 Caracazo [translator: riots against a neoliberal structural adjustment package which were suppressed by state force and mass killing of civilians], he conserves the memory of the heart-rending sound of the permanent cries of the poor in the street, whose kin were murdered.
Maduro met Hugo Chavez like the majority of Venezuelans did: he saw him on television when Chavez assumed responsibility for the military rebellion of 1992. Over a year later, 16 February 1993, he met Chavez personally in jail, along with a group of workers. The lieutenant colonel gave Maduro the clandestine name of Verde and gave him the responsibility of various conspiratorial tasks. When Chavez was freed in 1994, Maduro dedicated himself to the movement’s organisation full time. Today’s interim president was part of the Constituent National Assembly that drafted the new constitution in 1999. A year later he was elected deputy to the National Assembly. In January 2006 he was named Assembly President and a few months later resigned to become foreign minister. In this post he was a central actor in the effort to construct a multi-polar world, spearheading Latin American integration and build peace. From there he went on to become vice president, and a few days ago, interim president.
Maduro is married to the lawyer Cilia Flores; who is nine years older than him. She is an important figure in Chavismo, and has been, due to her own merits, president of the National Assembly, vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and Attorney General of the republic. They have one son, the flutist Nicolas Ernesto, and a grandson.
Chosen by Hugo Chavez as his political heir, on 14 April Nicolas Maduro will face the test of the ballot box. Emerging victorious, he will have the challenge of being the new ‘driver’ of the Bolivarian revolution; of solving problems such as insecurity and corruption, and continuing the comandante’s legacy: radicalising, and at the same time innovating it.