Chavez back in Venezuela, on Twitter with four million followers

CARACAS Tue Feb 19, 2013 7:48am EST

1 of 8. Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez take part in a gathering at Plaza Bolivar in Caracas February 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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CARACAS (Reuters) - After Hugo Chavez spent two months out of the public eye for cancer surgery in Cuba, the Venezuelan government hailed his homecoming on Monday and said the president had achieved another milestone - four million followers on Twitter.

The 58-year-old flew back from Havana before dawn and was taken to a military hospital. No new details were given on his health, and there were no images of his arrival. Officials say his condition remains delicate.

The normally loquacious socialist leader, who is struggling to speak as he breathes through a tracheal tube, took to Twitter with a passion back in April 2010, tweeting regularly and encouraging other leftist Latin American leaders to do likewise.

His @chavezcandanga account quickly drew a big mixed following of fans, critics and others just curious to see how his famously long speeches and fiery anti-U.S. invective would work within the social media network's 140-character limit.

But as he fought the cancer and underwent weeks of grueling chemotherapy and radiation therapy, he began to tweet less and less frequently, before stopping altogether on November 1.

Early on Monday morning, he made his reappearance.

"It was 4:30, 5 a.m. He got to his room and surprised everyone: rat-tat-tat, he sent three or four messages, and at that moment fireworks began to go off around the country," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised cabinet meeting.

During the day, Maduro added, the president's number of followers had shot up to well over four million.

"It's incredible, in just a few hours ... he's the second most-followed president in the world (after Barack Obama), and the first if we make the comparison by per capita," he said.

Obama has more than 27 million Twitter followers and is No. 5 most followed globally. Chavez is Twitter's No. 190 globally.


Maduro said Chavez's four millionth follower was a 20-year-old single Venezuelan woman named Alemar Jimenez from the gritty San Juan neighborhood in downtown Caracas, near the military hospital where the president arrived earlier in the day.

"She's one of the golden generation of youth who support the fatherland and have been waiting with growing love for commander Hugo Chavez," Maduro said, before presenting a dazzled-looking Jimenez to the cameras and giving her a bunch of flowers.

"We were really emotional" she said, recounting how she was with her mother when they heard Chavez had returned. "I sent him a message on Twitter saying he must get better."

There are still big questions over the president's health. He could have come back to govern from behind the scenes, or he may be hoping to ease political tensions and pave the way for a transition to Maduro, his preferred successor.

Chavez has often ordered followers to fight back against opposition critics of his self-styled revolution by using social media, leading from the front himself on Twitter and referring to the Internet as a "battle trench."

As his ranks of followers grew, Chavez said he hired 200 assistants to help him respond to messages - which he said were a great way to receive first-hand the requests, demands, complaints and denunciations of citizens in the thousands.

During his re-election campaign last year, the government launched an SMS text message service that forwards his tweets to cellphones that lack Internet service, broadening their reach to the poorest corners of the South American country.

"He's a communication revolution!" Maduro said, later unbuttoning his shirt on TV to show he was wearing a T-shirt bearing Chavez's eyes emblazoned across his chest.

For the tens of thousands who signed up on Monday to follow Chavez on Twitter, it is unclear how much will be posted there in the weeks and months ahead. Venezuela's 29 million people are mostly wondering something similar.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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Comments (4)
Parker1227 wrote:
Marxists are pure evil. Marxists (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho, Castro, etc.), killed more of their own civilians during the 20th century than were killed by all wars combined.

Our president attended a racist Black Power/Marxist church for 20 years before disavowing it in order to win the 2008 election.

Feb 19, 2013 2:06am EST  --  Report as abuse
Mooikut wrote:
Someone needs to remind Mr. Chavez that Twitter was created in the United States of America. A country he hates so much but apparently he likes and uses the products and services coming out of it. Also it would be interesting to see how many followers Mr. Chavez would have once he stops buying them through handouts ???

Feb 19, 2013 2:15am EST  --  Report as abuse
DeanMJackson wrote:
Mooikut, Chavez certainly doesn’t hate America, he’s a true-blue follower of Christ (which doesn’t mean he isn’t deluded as to Christ’s true message).

Venezuela’s oil company subsidiary, CITGO, is the only oil company that assists American citizens in need with free oil for heating during the winter months. Chavez doesn’t even capitalize on the gift.

Following your logic, American oil companies must really detest America!

This is not to say I don’t understand your antipathy for Chavez. Like you, I too am saddened he’s on the Communists’ side in the ongoing “struggle”. However, let’s not be mean and totally abuse the chap for his error. Let’s pray he sees the error of his friends in Moscow and Beijing and attempts to persuade them of their errors.

Christ is the answer, for a world Communist victory would necessarily be a permanent dictatorship, since Marx was wrong that Capitalism would evolve into the Communist Commonweal.

Those of you in Moscow and Beijing of the Marxist persuasion reading this, ask yourself this question: What if the “man” Marx was wrong? Well, the odds are better than 50% he was wrong, so if he was do you know what that would mean for the world? Eternal dictatorship, as Communists in control waited, like Godot, for the coming of the Communist Commonweal, but never to come.

Of course, every generation or so the people would become restless waiting for the new golden age to appear, which would compel the State to initiate periodic pogroms against certain classes of people, blaming those scapegoats for “sabotaging” the arrival of the Communist Commonweal. This is what will happen IF you win the struggle with the West.

Much more to come later, Comrades….

Feb 19, 2013 1:24pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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