Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


After 14 years of tempestuous rule under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has a new president. Nicolas Maduro, former vice president, was sworn-in late last week as the interim leader of Venezuela. Maduro is a one-time bus driver and union leader who had been at Chavez's side since the early '90s. Now Maduro is sounding more and more like his old boss.

NPR's Juan Forero reports.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Tall and imposing, Nicolas Maduro stepped forward in the country's packed congressional hall on Friday night.


NICOLAS MADURO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And then he swore to complete Hugo Chavez's dream for Venezuela, invoking the late president's name over and over. That dream is to transform this OPEC power into a socialist state, allied with Cuba, and decidedly opposed to capitalism and American interests in Latin America. It's a dream Maduro says will not die, even with the death of El Comandante a week ago, following a long ordeal with cancer.


MADURO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Maduro told the country that he wasn't taking the oath because of ambition, vanity or because he comes from the Venezuelan elite.


FORERO: The lawmakers in Chavista rank and file responded with cries of "with Chavez and Maduro, the people are safe." Maduro, to be sure, is solidly in charge of the government. Chavez himself, in his last public comments in December, told Venezuelans that Maduro was his political heir, and that gives Maduro a big advantage over the opposition in snap elections that'll be held on April 14th.

Still, Maduro is in for a scrap. On Sunday, opposition leader Henrique Capriles accepted the nomination to take on the new president. He said he'd fight.


HENRIQUE CAPRILES: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And addressing Maduro by his first name, Capriles said he wouldn't step aside and allow Chavez's successor to have an easy road to long-term power. Capriles said the government knew Chavez was in his death throes for weeks, and had been planning for this election.


CAPRILES: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And he also accused Maduro of using Chavez's death for political gain to bolster support from the former president's die-hard loyalists. The government hasn't stopped talking about Chavez or showing his image on its many state television stations.


PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: Chavez still sings guitar-laden llaneras on TV, the music of the great southern plains where he was born.


CHAVEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: In one hagiographic spot, a poem is read about how Chavez is still here in spirit, leading the country and his self-styled revolution. He still wades into crowds, kissing babies and singling out poor followers for hugs. It's powerful imagery, and it helps Maduro.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: Out on the streets, where revolutionary songs still play, the president's supporters all recall Chavez's last words on December 8th: Vote for Maduro if I'm not here.

Maria Andrade, age 54, was watching on TV that day.

MARIA ANDRADE: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: If the election were tomorrow, Andrade said, I'm sure all Venezuelans would be in the street to vote for Maduro. That's what the president told us to do.

That sentiment is perhaps shared by millions. But Maduro, once a reserved apparatchik, is also adopting the same intonation and fiery rhetoric as Chavez. He calls his opponents part of a rancid oligarchy out to sack the country, a favorite Chavez put-down.

And he suggested that Venezuela's historic enemy - by which he means the United States - has something to do with Chavez getting cancer. Sunday, reacting angrily to Capriles' accusations, Maduro said he'd remain loyal to the principles of the late president and the guiding light of the revolution. That's Simon Bolivar, hero of the independence era.


MADURO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And he had a warning for what he called ambitious oligarchs and imperialists.


MADURO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: There are no imperialist claws that can handle this sacred land, he said, this sacred land of Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez. Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.