Hugo Chavez gleefully filled the role of America’s troll-in-chief among world leaders during his dozen years in power.
Taking the podium on the floor of the United Nations and claiming to still smell sulphur in the air following George W. Bush’s speech — he’s a devil, get it? — may have been his finest moment of showy provocation, among hundreds of others. (Justin Timberlake provided a musical round-up of several others on Saturday Night Live.)
But, based on his record of inflammatory statements and provocative threats, his loyal lieutenant and Venezuela’s interim president Nicolas Maduro — owner of the best head-of-state mustache since Vicente Fox — has the makings of a world-class heckler. Maduro was sworn into power last weekend in a ceremony boycotted by opposition leaders. Elections will be held on April 14.
A former bus driver who earned his place with fierce and enduring devotion to Chavez, Maduro “once opened his shirt to show a T-shirt underneath bearing an image of his boss’s eyes.” That’s loyalty, friends. The other love of Maduro’s life is his wife, Cilia Flores, the attorney general of Venezuela — a power couple for the ages, and a tag-team nightmare for Venezuela’s opposition.
So might Presidente Maduro prove as colorful and entertaining on the world stage as his predecessor, who they are trying to permanently embalm in glass? (They might have waited too long, Maduro said on Wednesday.)
Maduro in a pretty colorful jacket, with Bolivian President Evo Morales. (credit: Reuters)
Vocativ presents the following listicle — entirely GIF-free — of reasons to be optimistic that he will:
1) He credits Chavez in heaven for persuading God to appoint a South American pope
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is the first South American — heck, the first person from the New World — ever to be named pope. And Maduro knows exactly who to thank.
“We know that our commander ascended to the heights and is face to face with Christ,” Maduro said yesterday at a book fair in Caracas. “Something influenced the choice of a South American pope, someone new arrived at Christ’s side and said to him: ‘Well, it seems to us South America’s time has come.’”
2) He thinks the U.S. assassinated Chavez by infecting him with cancer
Maduro is ready to set up a scientific commission to prove that Chavez was “attacked with this illness” by “the historical enemies of our homeland” — aka the United States. He seems certain that his batty layman’s diagnosis will be confirmed by experts, citing a history of Western powers conducting “clandestine assassinations” through illness. At his swearing-in ceremony, he said Chavez’s cancer was “very strange for the speed of its growth and for other scientific reasons that will be known in their moment.” Maduro also may be setting the stage to blame America for anything unduly happening to opposition leader Henrique Capriles: he’s already accusing “far-right” leaders in the U.S. of plotting to kill him — even though Capriles is also a conservative.
3) He called his political opponents “faggots”
Last year, Maduro categorized the political leaders of Venezuela’s opposition as “sifrinitos, mariconzones y fascistas” — or, roughly, “snobs, faggots and fascists.” Facing anger from the LGBT community, he later apologized for the remark. But the rhetorical flourish burnishes Maduro’s credentials as a world-class loose cannon.
The potential homophobia came up again this week, when he called Capriles “a little princess” and used his opponent’s status as a bachelor as a way to draw a contrast. “I do have a wife, you know? I do like women!” Maduro said at a rally.
4) He compared the U.S. government to the Nazis — because of a TSA security check
In 2006, Maduro was detained for extra security screening at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, prompting him to describe his American hosts as “racist” and “Nazi.” Maybe he’s not familiar with Godwin’s law?
5) He compared Guantanamo Bay to the Holocaust
In 2007, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Chavez for shutting down a private TV station. Maduro’s response was to compare Guantanamo “to atrocities not committed since Hitler’s time.” (OK, he’s definitely not familiar with Godwin’s law.)
6) He’s a 9/11 truther
Putting his full range of diplomatic skills on display in his days as Venezuela’s foreign minister, Maduro declared that the 9/11 terror attacks “could have been a great conspiracy against humanity.”
Taking a card from intellectual heavyweight and acknowledged Truther Charlie Sheen, Maduro said that “an independent investigation must be carried out one day to discover the truth about the events of September 11.”
7) He shares a spiritual guru with Goldie Hawn
Maduro — along with Goldie Hawn and the Duchess of York — is a devout follower of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru who, until his death in 2011, was known for conjuring ‘holy ash’ and bright gold jewelry out of thin air. (His followers exalt these incidents as proof of his miracles; his critics call them sleights of hand, as Sai Baba has refused to perform them in controlled conditions).
Maduro and Flores visited the swami at his home in India in 2005, and he subsequently made two more trips while serving as foreign minister. Sai Baba has such an influence on the VP that a large portrait of him hangs in Maduro’s office.
Maduro and his wife with Baba
It’s worth noting that Sai Baba may have been a bit of a pervert. The guru faced several allegations of sexual abuse, though none were proven. But multiple British TV specials documenting these allegations led to the UK Parliament introducing a motion in 2002 that warned “British families intending to visit the ashram of Sai Baba about the possible danger to their male children of individual audiences with the guru.”
Maduro and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the funeral service for Chavez on March 8. (credit: Reuters)