* Maduro seen as moderate but faithful socialist disciple
* "We are the children of Chavez"
* Investors hope for more pragmatic leadership
CARACAS, Dec 12 (Reuters) - After rising from bus driver to
union leader to vice president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro
could soon be at the helm of the South American OPEC nation if a
third bout of cancer pulls President Hugo Chavez out of office.
Anointed as the former soldier's successor, Maduro is the
most popular of Chavez's inner circle and the most qualified to
carry on his oil-financed socialism.
Maduro, who is seen as a moderate who has developed
alliances around the world during six years a s foreign minister,
would assume power if Chavez has to step aside. He would then
have to run as the Socialist Party's candidate in an election
against the opposition.
Because he has stuck so closely to Chavez's official line,
it is difficult to know what Maduro's policies might be if he
were leading the country on his own.
His experience as a union leader taught Maduro the
importance of dialogue, suggesting he could begin mending fences
with business leaders and the opposition after a decade of
But he will face intense pressure from ideological radicals
and self-interested profiteers who h ave enriched themselves
under Chavez's government to extend the state's grip over the
economy and private enterprise.
Maduro's first speech after being named successor indicated
he is likely to assume Chavez's blustering rhetoric while
presenting himself as a disciple of the cancer-stricken leader.
"We are eternally grateful to Chavez ... we will be loyal to
Chavez beyond this lifetime," a tearful Maduro said during a
rally for state governors in a speech in which he invoked
independence heroes, shouted triumphant slogans and then lowered
his voice for dramatic effect in hallmark Chavez style.
"We are the children of Chavez."
TRANSITION IN MOTION
For the first time since his 2011 diagnosis for an
unspecified type of cancer, Chavez has suggested his illness
could keep him from continuing his 14-year self-styled
revolution. O n Tuesday he underwent his fourth operation for
cancer after twice declaring himself completely cured.
The possible transition generated optimism for a more
moderate government after years of intransigent socialism.
Wall Street investors drawn to Venezuela's highly traded
bonds, as well as oil companies seeking greater access to the
world's largest crude reserves, are watching closely.
Maduro survived Chavez's mercurial micro-management and
became one of the longest-lasting ministers in the frequently
rotating Cabinet by executing orders and repeating anti-U.S.
rhetoric around the world.
He often appeared as a towering sidekick over Chavez's
shoulder in television broadcasts.
In 1992, when Chavez was jailed for a failed coup that made
him famous, Maduro took to the streets to demand his release
alongside his partner Cilia Flores, who led the legal team that
helped get Chavez freed within two years.
Maduro and Flores are considered a "power couple" in
Maduro gained notoriety as a rabble-rousing legislator
during the tumultuous early years of Chavez's rule. He was at
the front lines of efforts to defeat a failed coup and a
crippling oil strike in 2002 and a recall referendum in 2004.
Upon rising to head of Congress, Maduro swapped the blue
jeans and plaid shirts of a union leader for sharp suits. Even
in his high-toned attire, he still could be seen elbowing
through reporters to get to the appetizer table before
presidential press conferences.
EXPERIENCE IN NEGOTIATION
As foreign minister, Maduro has trotted the globe denouncing
U.S. foreign policy and cultivating allies in emerging markets
such as Russia and China, which would become a key financier.
One of Maduro's offices includes a large portrait of the
late Indian spiritual guru Sai Baba, who he and Flores, who also
is a former head of Congress, visited in 2005.
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.