Hugo Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro a devotee of Satya Sai Baba

Nicolas Maduro

Former bus driver and union leader Nicolas Maduro, successor to Hugo Chavez, is an ardent follower of Satya Sai Baba. One of Maduro's offices features a large portrait of the late spiritual guru, whom he and his wife, Cilia Flores, visited at Puttaparthi in Anantapur district in 2005.

Maduro followed a simple strategy when he filled in for cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez over the past three months: copy his boss's policies, his style and even his fierce rhetoric.

Now that Chavez is dead, Maduro will almost certainly stick with the same approach as he tries to win a presidential election and inherit Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution.

Maduro rose to the job of vice president precisely because he was a firm Chavez loyalist and he has so far given no hints that he might make significant policy changes if he is elected.

Knowing he might not recover, Chavez named the burly, mustachioed Maduro as his heir apparent in early December before flying to Cuba for his fourth cancer operation in 18 months.

The move turned Maduro, who had served for six years as foreign minister but was named vice president only a few weeks earlier, into the OPEC nation's de facto leader.

Although unable to come anywhere near to matching Chavez's famous charisma, Maduro has copied his hectoring style, grand historical references and vitriolic attacks on "treacherous" opponents.

"Chavez has shown us a superior human state: socialism," Maduro, 50, said in adoring comments during one of dozens of appearances on state television.

"We are absolutely firm on the goals, plans and spirit of this program ... Our people want to continue consolidating a socially inclusive model that gives protection to all, economic stability and progress, and true democracy."

Like Chavez, Maduro has accused foes of plotting to assassinate him and blamed private businesses for causing Venezuela's economic problems with hoarding and what he denounces as "speculative attacks" on the bolivar currency.

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