Nicolás Maduro: 10 things to know about Venezuela’s controversial president

1. His father was an impoverished cop who died in the streets of Caracas in 1991. Maduro was a baby at the time. He was raised by his mother and grandparents, who didn’t live together.

2. As a teenager, he ran off to pursue his dream of being a baseball player, but in the third grade, he got political: “He never complained about the Latin war,” said his mother, Maria Silvia Perez, adding, “He was very aware of what was going on and his father’s death, and he was taught to be very respectful of life.”

3. During the 1990s, the young Maduro, who was going by the name of Carlos Antonio Cabral, worked at a natural gas station. He was known by the nickname “Maduro.” His family says he later converted to the PSUV — at 17, he became the youngest member of the party.

4. The late president Hugo Chávez was a great mentor to Maduro, who told the BBC that Chávez gave him “a lot of space to think” about the country. In a BBC interview shortly after Maduro took office in 2013, Chávez encouraged his successor to be inclusive, and give support to all classes. “In 2013, when I passed away, I wanted to leave a program that gave everything — salary, housing, benefits, everything,” he said. “Then, the opposition walked away from the [dialogue] table. The people of Venezuela don’t trust the opposition because there was a very bad character.”

5. He entered politics at the national level, taking the vice president’s position in the National Assembly, in 2005. He ascended to the presidency in April 2013, after Chávez passed away. Shortly after that, he accused the U.S. of backing the opposition, saying that U.S. sanctions against Venezuelans were linked to their opposition.

6. Maduro has pursued a hard line on foreign policy during his term, and even announced his plans to buy a warship from Russia in 2013. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Maduro said he considered attacking the U.S. Embassy in Caracas to demonstrate to the world that Venezuela has the right to nationalize its economic and financial systems.

7. Maduro recently criticized the U.S. election process, saying that the vote would have been “worse” had the candidates had to meet in a “naked fight.” He was the first Latin American president to be elected in 2013, but his supporters and opponents still argue whether he was the victim of a sham election that the opposition claims. His continued popularity is one of the reasons he remains in power.

8. He has said that he expects his image to improve after a bank loan meant to fund Venezuela’s war on corruption is reportedly not going to go through. He recently pledged not to miss any payments on the loan after it was reportedly canceled, and he accused Venezuelan’s National Guard of planning to raid accounts connected to high-ranking officials.

9. As president, Maduro has controlled spending on many items, including buses, drugs, and a museum being built in his own honor.

10. The opposition has called for the resignation of Maduro, arguing that he has become less popular as his tenure has gone on. In one of his last terms, he was re-elected in 2014 with a record 81 percent of the vote, but according to the Venezuelan University of Matosinhos, only 17 percent of voters think he did a good job. In August 2015, two foreign polling agencies reported that there had been a sharp decline in the popularity of the president, and his approval ratings had fallen to just 33 percent.

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