Nicolás Maduro: Who is the Venezuelan president and why might there be a plot to assassinate him?

While premier has clung on to power, his critics are many

Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro survives failed assassination attempt using 'drones' armed with explosives

Shortly after apparently dodging a purported assassination attempt, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro pointed the finger squarely at the Colombian government and his detractors on the “ultra-right”.

Mr Maduro was part-way through a speech celebrating the National Guard’s 81st anniversary when drones carrying explosives are said to have detonated, prompting pandemonium.

Neat formations of soldiers that had assembled for the event scattered and the president’s bodyguards quickly ushered him away.

The 55-year-old was unharmed in the incident, but seven people were injured, the country’s information minister said, with photographs showing soldiers bleeding as they walked from the scene.

But who is the Venezualan president? And why might there be a plot to kill him?

Rise to power

The son of a prominent trade union leader, Mr Maduro was born in 1962 into a working class family. He went on to demonstrate his own strong political convictions when he became president of the student union at Jose Avalos high school in El Valle, on the edge of Caracas.

He never graduated, according to records, and started working as a bus driver for the Caracas Metro company. There, he joined the Socialist League and established one of the company’s first informal labour syndicates, due to a ban on formal unionisation in the company at the time.

Mr Maduro met erstwhile Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in December 1993 and became a central figure in his Bolivarian Movement, helping to launch the Movement for the Fifth Republic in 1997, which backed Chávez’s presidential run. In 1998, Mr Chávez won a groundbreaking electoral victory and Mr Maduro was elected as an MP.

Mr ​Maduro’s political rise continued and in 1999 he helped draft a new constitution, before going on to serve as deputy at the national assembly. In 2000, he moved to head up the body.

Mr Chávez named Mr Maduro as minister of foreign affairs in 2006 and he went on to make a number of inflammatory statements while in the role.

When, in 2007, then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice criticised the Venezualan government for closing a private television station, Mr Maduro called her a hypocrite and compared Guantánamo Bay to Nazi concentration camps.

Government

Mr Maduro became interim leader when Chávez died in March 2013 and won a six-year term in office by only a narrow margin the following month. Since then, like his predecessor, Mr Maduro has proved a divisive figure.

Support for his presidency has been ravaged by devastating economic deterioration. Under his government, Venezuela entered a recession, inflation skyrocketed and shortages of basic provisions became commonplace.

Few expected the leader to be able to win a second term. But he did, securing a second mandate in a presidential election in May. His main rivals disavowed the election, alleging massive irregularities.

His administration has drawn widespread criticised from a number of countries for undermining democracy and violating human rights. Last year, dozens of protesters were killed in clashes during anti-government protests.

The president has steadily concentrated power, setting up a new constituent assembly with the power to bypass and even dissolve the opposition-led National Assembly. The EU and major Latin American nations have refused to recognise the new body.

Enemies

While Mr Maduro has clung on to the support of certain organisations such as the military, his critics are many.

A little known group calling itself Soldiers in T-shirts claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt, saying it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president, but government soldiers shot them down before reaching its target.

“We showed that they are vulnerable,” the group said in a tweet. “It was not successful today, but it is just a matter of time.”

Since Mr Maduro's election and the economic downturn, opposition parties have rallied together against him, accusing him of driving the economy into the ground, violating human rights and manipulating democratic processes.

Mr Maduro has said the country is the victim of an “economic war” waged by opposition leaders aided by Washington.

The diplomatic relationship between Venezuala and Colombia has also become increasing fraught, as many Venezuelans have been driven into the neighbouring country by hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages.

Last week, Colombia granted more than 440,000 migrants permission to stay in the country for two years and the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been a vocal critic of Mr Maduro

“The whole world is ever more terrified by what is happening in Venezuela,” he said last week. “Such a rich country, a country with the largest oil reserves in the whole world, with a population that is dying of hunger and dying of disease for lack of medicine.”

Colombia refused to recognise Mr Maduro’s victory at the presidential election in May, and accused regime of giving Venezuelan identification cards to Colombians​.

But a Colombian official with the president’s office described Mr Maduro’s claims that Mr Santos was involved in the drone attack as baseless.

No matter who was responsible for the apparent assassination attempt, experts say Mr Maduro will use it to justify further concentration of power.

David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, said: “Whoever did this, he’ll use it to further restrict liberty and purge the government and armed forces.”

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