What do we really know about Maduro?

No volverá a pasar, número uno.
No volverá a pasar, número uno.

In my TNR piece on the launch of transition, I stress the idea that we don’t actually know anything at all about Nicolás Maduro,

Although he’s held a string of high-profile jobs since 1999, including speaker of the National Assembly, foreign minister and, now, vice president, Maduro long ago figured out that the Prime Directive for an aspiring Chavista pol is never ever to be seen as out of step with the president. The president-in-waiting is Chavismo’s consumate Yes Man.

The trouble with Yes Men, of course, is that you can never tell what they’re really thinking. Maduro’s resume provides only limited guidance: A Caracas bus driver turned radical union organizer for bus drivers, he’s seen as a champion for the civilian side of the Civilian-Military divide, a split typically described as pitting more radical, leftist, pro-Cuban civilians against more conservative, corrupt, nationalistic military men in the upper echelons of bureaucratic Chavismo.

The reality is that, like every pol who’s managed to survive a decade and a half of splits and purges within the Chávez movement, Nicolás Maduro is a political minikin, part of the flotsam left behind after every Chávez supporter of substance and integrity either walked out or was thrown out.

For the moment, Chávez’s explicit endorsement ends what some had feared would become a messy fight to succeed him. But how lasting will that peace prove to be, once the comandante is out of the picture? After all, the skills it takes to remain in an autocrat’s favor over an extended period of time have little in common with the skills it takes to keep the governing coalition intact—to say nothing about running the country. Maduro is the acknowledged master of the former, certainly, but his aptitude for the latter is untested. What’s clear is that Maduro lacks any source of legitimacy apart from the president’s favor, and that inevitably raises questions about his electoral viability.

Juan thought that was over the top, but when we get right down to it, what do we really know about Nicolás Maduro?

Can you name a single policy, idea, stance or decision we associate specifically with him? I struggle to – the closest I’ve seen is this from Juan Forero in the Washington Post:

But it has been as foreign minister that he has won even the respect of some of the government’s adversaries. Maduro worked to build close ties to powers such as Russia and China, which has given billions in loans to Venezuela. Officials in Colombia, meanwhile, say Maduro has played an important role in President Juan Manuel Santos’s nascent peace process with a 48-year-old communist guerrilla movement.

Even then, you could question whether Maduro took the initiative on this, or simply followed an order. We just don’t know.

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