Chavez's VP ratchets up profile in Venezuela

AP News
Posted: Jan 19, 2013 4:52 PM
Chavez's VP ratchets up profile in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro has begun rallying supporters so often on television that opponents are suggesting he is campaigning for support while ailing President Hugo Chavez remains out of sight in Cuba.

Maduro visited an outdoor government-run market on Saturday, promoting vegetables and other foods at cheap prices. In other appearances this past week, he presented new public housing and inaugurated a school.

"Maduro campaigning, be prepared!" opposition leader Henrique Capriles said in a message on his Twitter account on Friday night. Other opposition politicians have questioned Maduro's higher profile, saying it suggests an effort to make him a more familiar voice for Venezuelans and promote him as an eventual presidential candidate.

Before his latest cancer surgery, Chavez said that if his illness cuts short his presidency, Maduro should run in a new election to take his place. Chavez has not spoken publicly or been seen in more than five weeks since the Dec. 11 operation for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer.

Maduro, however, expressed confidence on Saturday that Chavez will return home.

"Little by little. God and his doctors are doing their work, and we'll have him here," Maduro said, wearing a track suit as he spoke on television at the market in the city of Valencia. "We'll have him with the people, in command, always in command."

Maduro, a 50-year-old former foreign minister, lawmaker and bus driver, was tapped by Chavez as vice president in October after the president won re-election to new six-year term.

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The vice president's frequent appearances in televised events in recent days seem intended to at least partly fill the large void left by the absence of the loquacious Chavez, who used to talk on the air for hours at a time most days.

Mariana Bacalao, a professor of public opinion at the Central University of Venezuela, said that Maduro "surely is seeking to transmit and communicate that message that the country is in motion, that things are being done."