CARACAS Venezuela (AFP) — President Hugo Chavez has installed a trusted heir apparent who is well-liked by his communist allies in Cuba.
Nicolas Maduro, 49, was sworn in as vice-president Saturday, one week after Chavez won re-election despite a strong opposition and questions over the leftist leader's health following a battle with cancer.
"Maduro's appointment was expected since last year due to (Chavez's) health situation," Ricardo Sucre, political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela, told AFP.
A burly and mustachioed former bus driver who was foreign minister in the previous government, Maduro often visited Chavez while his mentor was undergoing treatment in Cuba. Chavez was diagnosed with a disease in June 2011, and declared himself cancer-free in July of this year.
As the country's chief diplomat, Maduro represented Chavez at international events, such as the summit of the Americas in Colombia in April, while the 58-year-old president was undergoing medical treatment.
"Look where Nicolas, the bus driver, is headed. He was a bus driver and they had mocked him," Chavez said last week when he named Maduro as his new deputy, replacing Elias Jaua.
Though the Castro brothers in Cuba appreciate Maduro, the new vice-president is considered one of the moderate members of Chavez's inner circle.
"He is not loud. He appears, with his qualities as foreign minister, to be open to dialogue," Sucre said. "Plus, he is the option of the Castros."
But after 14 years of confrontation with the opposition, Maduro's appointment does not mean the new Chavez cabinet will be more open to dialogue in the president's next six-year term, the analyst said.
During the president's absence, Maduro adopted the same anti-US rhetoric as Chavez, denouncing American "imperialism" while defending US foes such as Syria and the regime of late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
As foreign minister since 2006, Maduro participated in political and economic talks with new partners such as Russia and China, and the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).