Caracas: Nicolas Maduro, the hand-picked successor to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, will now have to fill the void left by the larger-than-life leftist firebrand he loyally served for more than a decade.

Venezuelan Prez Chavez dies at 58

Maduro began adopting the role even before Chavez's death, calling an opposition leader the "prince of the parasitic bourgeoisie," and giving rambling speeches on state-run television capped with "Viva la revolucion!" "We swear that no little bourgeois will ever screw the people again," Maduro said during a rally last week. He has also denounced the "decadent" opposition and the US "empire," retreading political jabs Chavez had copied from ally Communist Cuba.

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Before announcing the "historic tragedy" of Chavez's death at the age of 58 on Wednesday, Maduro expelled two US military attaches, accused "historical enemies" of infection Chavez with cancer and lashed out at the opposition. The broad-shouldered former bus driver and union activist with a thick moustache was once considered a moderate figure who honed his diplomatic skills when he was foreign minister. But the 50-year-old vice president has shown his hardcore Chavista side since he began running day-to-day operations in this OPEC member country after Chavez underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11.

"It is clear that the tactic used by Maduro is to consolidate his power," Luis Vicente Leon, director of pollsters Datanalisis, said. "It is a tough tactic of radicalization and intimidation of internal and external rivals." "The main reason for this is that he has to fill the void. In the short-term, it is important to prevent internal and external rivals from taking advantage of Chavez's absence to sow instability."
Maduro has frequently appeared on the VTV public channel, handing keys to subsidised homes to families, showing off a refurbished hospital or driving a bus being donated to university students. But he has also taken shots at the opposition, using salty language to needle Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October and appears his most likely rival if a snap election is called.


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