By Eduardo Sanchez
Nicolás Maduro has carefully portrayed himself as a politician closer to the people and tried to set himself apart from the hero-like characteristics of his mentor. He reaches out to the people as an ordinary Venezuelan but his rhetoric on social media gives one the idea of him continuing Chávez’s grand dream for the country. His trademark speeches, media appearances, and Twitter messages involve vast references to the late Hugo Chávez (on average, tweets about Chavez range between 5 and 7 times a week) and 19th century hero Simón Bolivar (although to a lesser degree and mostly once or twice a week). The duties that he fulfills or the triumphs of his administration are clearly regarded as mere results of following what the “great leader” had intended for Venezuela.
And yet, there is something different in the way he subtly continues to portray himself as someone carrying on the legacy of Chávez and yet different. In a number of interviews (see for example Telesur interview of September 2013), Maduro refers to his early childhood and his constant contact with all kinds of people by which he strives to learn about the hardships of the poor. His initial involvement with politics was also a direct result of his everyday struggles. Working as a bus driver for six years, he felt compelled to fight for the rights of this sector and became a union leader with the support of his coworkers.
Later on although he held more prestigious political appointments, such as speaker of the National Assembly, minister of foreign affairs, and vice president and this meant he was to a degree distant from directly advocating for the plight of millions of Venezuelans, his presidency has been notable for redirecting attention to the people. In this sense, his image is charged with the notion of someone who has worked hard to gain the positions and power that have been conferred to him.
One of the social programs most frequently featured in press releases and his Twitter account is “Government of the street” (Gobierno de calle in Spanish) – having mentioned it at least 21 times in the month of October; the program also has an official Twitter account with further details. Maduro has advanced a government that takes into account the perspective from the ground and navigates the streets of Venezuela. This has afforded him the opportunity to be closer to the people and garner additional support to his endeavor. He portrays himself as a president that is aware of every issue that affects Venezuelans and that his direction will improve their lives. Even though Chávez himself was close to the people and would have direct contact with his supporters, Maduro steps away from the divine-like characteristics of Chávez to seem at least more accessible, more of an ordinary man.
Besides his formal image as president and steward of Chávez’s revolution, Maduro’s mundane activities are highlighted as much as possible to ensure that people can relate to him and vice versa. His love for music and dancing is present at major popular events (see for example tweet of 19 October 2013). He partakes in such activities in a mix of propaganda and closeness to the people. Images of him smiling, hugging supporters, dancing, riding bicycles, etc. are not uncommon in his Twitter feed and reproduced in government websites and newspapers (see for example Maduro dancing at a meeting with workers). In a way, Maduro wants to show his supporters that he knows how to make politics but he also knows how to have fun. On average, one or two weekly tweets have been dedicated to making sure that his followers are well aware of this, maintaining the seriousness of political events as well.