Could Maduro, Chávez's choice as successor, mend Venezuela's rifts?
Nicolas Maduro, who Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has flagged as his desired successor, was formerly a union leader – an experience that suggests an inclination for dialogue with opponents.
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Maduro has often been at Chavez's side during his cancer treatments in Havana.
"Nicolas is a person who can talk to anyone," said Jose Albornoz, who worked alongside him as a legislator for a party allied with the government that later split with Chavez.
"His work with unions taught him to communicate with his adversary. I think he could open a dialogue with (opposition leaders) to make sure his government is successful."
Maduro could face tough economic decisions including a widely expected currency devaluation, a price hike for heavily subsidized fuel and cuts in state spending after Chavez's lavish campaign that helped him win re-election in October.
The idea of transition from Chavez to Maduro may well have come from Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez's political mentor who six years ago handed over power to his younger brother Raul after falling ill himself. The younger Castro has since begun a slow transition away from centrally planned communism.
More pragmatic leadership from Maduro could help tackle problems including crime, inflation and unemployment that critics say have gone unchecked because of Chavez's rigid ideological approach to them.
While Chavez has a reputation for choosing government officials on the basis of loyalty and political views, people who have worked with Maduro commend him for prioritizing credentials and hard work.
"He's a real man of the people," Ecuadorean Ambassador Ramon Torres told Reuters.