Profile: Nicolas Maduro
Succeeding charismatic and outspoken Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela was never going to be easy for Nicolas Maduro, who - until he took up office - had been described as a "quiet man".
Even though he was handpicked by the late leader to succeed him, Mr Maduro won the presidential election in April 2013 by the narrowest of margins in a country which is notoriously divided into those who adore Mr Chavez and his legacy and those who hate everything he stood for.
During his campaign, Mr Maduro pledged to complete the "Bolivarian revolution" begun by Mr Chavez.Binding ties
Mr Maduro's ties with Chavismo, the socialist movement founded by Mr Chavez, go back to the early 1990s when Mr Chavez served time in prison for the attempted coup of 1992.
Mr Maduro campaigned for Mr Chavez to be released - which happened in 1994. During this time, Mr Maduro also met his future wife, Cilia Flores, a prominent lawyer on Mr Chavez's defence team.
In 2000, he was elected to Venezuela's parliament, the National Assembly. Five years later, he became the assembly's speaker.
He left that post in 2006, when President Chavez asked him to become his foreign minister.
When Mr Chavez was elected to a third term in office in 2012, he named Mr Maduro vice-president, whom he described as "a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work, for leading, for handling the most difficult situations".'Chavez's son'
Mr Maduro served as one of Mr Chavez's closest advisers until the leader's death from cancer on 5 March, taking over as acting president until new elections were held the following month.
Analysts had predicted an internal rift within Chavismo upon Mr Chavez's death, saying that the speaker of the assembly, Diosdado Cabello, would try to wrest power from Mr Maduro.
But whatever the disputes behind the scenes may have been, Mr Maduro managed to keep a lid on any internal party dissent by casting himself as "Chavez's son".
He presided over the late president's funeral and declared that Mr Chavez's office in the presidential palace would be kept intact and turned into a museum.
Speaking at the start of his presidential campaign, he said that the late president had appeared to him in the form of a little bird.
Mr Maduro said a small bird had flown around him three times and looked at him "oddly", at which point he he had felt in his soul it was a message from the late leader.
"I felt its blessing, telling us: 'Today the battle begins, go for victory, you have my blessing,'" he said.
The remark attracted much mockery from his opponents.Strained relations
After he won the election by a margin of less than 1.5 percentage points, Mr Maduro continued to implement many of the policies of Mr Chavez.
He also adopted some of the confrontational rhetoric of his predecessor, accusing Colombian and US "agents" of plotting against his government and his life.
In September, he cancelled a speech at the United Nations General Assembly saying there had been "serious provocations that could threaten his life", but giving no details.
On 30 September, he ordered the expulsion of three US diplomats, whom he accused of plotting to sabotage the economy.
The United States and Venezuela have been without ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2010 and there have been a number of public spats between the two countries in the past.
Most memorable was Mr Chavez's 2006 speech at the United Nations when he referred to then-President George Bush as the devil, commenting on the distinct smell of sulphur that remained at the podium after an earlier speech by Mr Bush.
Analysts had hoped a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua in June on the sidelines of an Organization of American States summit would bring about a thaw in relations.
"We have faith and confidence that this meeting marks the start of a relationship of respect," Mr Jaua said.
But Mr Maduro's latest remarks, telling US diplomats: "Out of Venezuela! Yankees go home! Enough of abuse against the dignity of a peace-loving nation!" seem to signal a return to the anti-US rhetoric his predecessor often engaged in.