The Society of Jesus has elected its first Latin-American leader since its foundation in 1540, a Rome-based Venezuelan whose past curiously parallels that of the first Jesuit pope.

Like Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who steered his divided province through the 1970s Argentine dictatorship, Father Arturo Sosa SJ, 67, was Venezuelan provincial between  1996 and 2004, when there were tensions within his province over the dictatorship of Hugo Chávez.

Prior to his appointment as provincial, he was in charge of the social apostolate of the Jesuits in Venezuela, which includes the massive school Jesuit network, Fe y Alegría that primarily serves the poor. He was also head of the Centro Gumilla, the Jesuit-run social and action research center.

In an interview in 2014 he described the authoritarian regime of Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro as a “popular tyranny”.

As an expert in political science and political theory, who has taught and researched widely and who knows the Maduro regime at first hand, his election seems designed, in part, to bolster the Vatican’s mediation in the fast-deteriorating situation there.

Sosa, who becomes the 31st superior general of the Jesuits, was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on November 12, 1948. He has a doctorate in Political Sciences from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and speaks Spanish, Italian, and English.

Among his distinguished academic posts, he has served as a member of the founding board of the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas and rector of the Catholic University of Táchira. He has taught and researched political science in many different institutes and colleges, and in 2004 was a visiting professor at the Latin-American Studies Center of Georgetown University.

He has been serving since 2014 as the Delegate of the General for the International houses and Works of the Society of Jesus in Rome, meaning he has had responsibility for Jesuit formation and other houses, including the Jesuit headquarters, or General Curia and the Gregorian University.

Some 212 Jesuit electors from across the world, mostly delegated by the nearly 17,000 Jesuits worldwide, this morning voted for Sosa following the resignation of Father Adolfo Nicolás.

It is not yet clear how many ballots it took to elect him, but the result was known after just a couple of hours. The Jesuit electors have spent this week in the murmuratio, discussing the merits of possible generals with each other.

Sosa is thought to the first Jesuit general to sport a moustache (although many have had beards).