After announcing socialist president Hugo Chávez’ death on Tuesday, Venezuela’s vice president, Nicolás Maduro, assumed power in defiance of the Constitution, which stipulates that the speaker of the National Assembly must become interim president.
Chávez died after a two-year battle with cancer and ruling the Latin American country for fourteen years. He was elected to a fourth term in October but could not be inaugurated on January 10 due to his illness.
Under the Constitution, Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of parliament, would assume the presidency and an election should be called within thirty days.
Maduro has served as de facto president in Chávez’ absence. Elías Jaua, the foreign minister, confirmed on Tuesday that he would continue to govern in that capacity.
Maduro is also planning to stand as the ruling party’s presidential candidate in the next election, for which a date has yet to be set.
Shortly before his last trip to Cuba, where Chávez underwent cancer treatment, the former president named Maduro as his successor.
“My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is that you elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he told Venezuelans in December. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue if I cannot.”
Maduro is believed to enjoy stronger support from within the ruling party than Cabello, and from Cuba, which is Venezuela’s most important ally in the region.
The communist regime there depends on cheap Venezuelan oil and investments to keep its economy afloat. In 2011, Venezuela accounted for 41 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade.
If he wins, Maduro is expected to maintain Chávez’ economic and foreign policies.
Like his mentor, he has been extremely critical of the United States, which he has accused of poisoning the late president.
When he was detained by security at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2006, Maduro denounced the United States government as “Nazi” and “racist” and said it did not appreciate Latin American nations.
Maduro has also called for rapprochement with neighboring Colombia, however, where a right-wing government, allied to the United States, crushed a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that sympathized with, and was supported by, Venezuela’s leftist regime.