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Chavez's VP ratchets up profile in Venezuela

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm •  Published: January 19, 2013

During the past week, some of Chavez's allies in the National Assembly have also announced a bill that would attempt to regulate auto sales prices and combat "speculation."

Echoing Chavez's past remarks, Maduro said the government is still open to working with businesspeople who show a "spirit of cooperation."

Maduro, a 50-year-old former foreign minister, lawmaker and bus driver, was tapped by the socialist leader as vice president in October after the president won re-election to new six-year term.

The vice president's frequent appearances in televised events in recent days seem intended to at least partly fill the large void left by the absence of the loquacious Chavez, who used to talk on the air for hours at a time most days.

Mariana Bacalao, a professor of public opinion at the Central University of Venezuela, said that Maduro "surely is seeking to transmit and communicate that message that the country is in motion, that things are being done."

Bacalao said that Maduro also seems to be in a process of honing "his own image."

The vice president has been joined by other Cabinet ministers in keeping up a steady stream of promotional TV appearances. Commerce Minister Edmee Betancourt on Saturday showed off boxes of newly imported Chinese appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, which are being sold at discounted prices at government-run stores.

Maria Sarmiento, a Chavez supporter selling mandarin oranges on a sidewalk in Caracas, said she still hopes the president will get better and return home. "I don't know if Maduro is campaigning or not, although it seems like it," she said.

When the vice president attended the inauguration of a school on Friday, Maduro repeated an increasingly frequent message: that Chavez has sacrificed for the country and his supporters should reciprocate by being united.

"He has done everything for us," Maduro said. "He didn't sleep, he ate poorly, he spent 24 hours a day every day working for the nation."

Chavez acknowledged after his cancer diagnosis in 2011 that he had been drinking dozens of cups of coffee a day, had slept little and had generally been neglecting his health.

"He's given all of his life," Maduro said. "We should pay that back with work, with dedication, with intelligence, with unity."