Beginning his working life as a bus driver, Maduro rose to become a trade union leader before being elected to the National Assembly in 2000. He was appointed to a number of positions under President Hugo Chávez and was described in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal as the “most capable administrator and politician of Chávez’s inner circle”. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2013 and as vice president of Venezuela from 2012 to 2013 under Chávez. After Chávez’s death was announced on 5 March 2013, Maduro assumed the presidency. A special presidential election was held in 2013, which Maduro won with 50.62% of the vote as the United Socialist Party of Venezuela candidate. He has ruled Venezuela by decree since 2015 through powers granted to him by the ruling party legislature.
Shortages in Venezuela and decreased living standards led to protests beginning in 2014 that escalated into daily marches nationwide, repression of dissent and a decline in Maduro’s popularity. According to The New York Times, Maduro’s administration was held “responsible for grossly mismanaging the economy and plunging the country into a deep humanitarian crisis” and attempting to “crush the opposition by jailing or exiling critics, and using lethal force against antigovernment protesters”.
An opposition-led National Assembly was elected in 2015 and a movement toward recalling Maduro began in 2016; Maduro maintained power through the Supreme Tribunal, the National Electoral Council and the military. The Supreme Tribunal removed power from the elected National Assembly, resulting in a constitutional crisis and protests in 2017. Maduro called for a rewrite of the constitution, and the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela was elected in 2017, under what many—including Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and Smartmatic, the company that ran the voting machines – considered irregular voting conditions; the majority of its members were pro-Maduro.
On 20 May 2018, presidential elections were called prematurely; opposition leaders had been jailed, exiled or forbidden to run, there was no international observation, and tactics to suggest voters could lose their jobs or social welfare if they did not vote for Maduro were used. Multiple nations did not recognize the Constituent Assembly election or the validity of Maduro’s 2018 reelection; the Canadian, Panamanian, and the United States governments sanctioned Maduro.
Maduro has been described as a “dictator”, and an Organization of American States (OAS) report determined that crimes against humanity have been committed during his presidency. Under Maduro’s administration, more than 9,000 people have been executed for “resistance to authority” and more than 4 million Venezuelans have been forced to flee the country.
Maduro allies including China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Turkey support and denounce what they call interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs. AP News reported that “familiar geopolitical sides” had formed in the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis, with allies Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and Cuba supporting Maduro, and the US, Canada, and most of Latin America and Western Europe supporting Guaidó as interim president.
Amid widespread condemnation, President Maduro was sworn in on 10 January 2019, and the president of the National Assembly, Guaidó, declared himself interim president on 23 January 2019. Maduro’s government states that the crisis is a “coup d’état led by the United States to topple him and control the country’s oil reserves.” Guaidó denies the coup allegations, saying peaceful volunteers back his movement.