Guatemalan fears a tweet will make him a jailbird

Pacheco said prosecutors plan to charge Anleu in July under a 2008 law that provides for five years in prison and a $6,200 fine for spreading false information that undermines the public's trust in a financial institution.

But if the government hoped to silence criticism, it appears to have had the opposite effect. As news of Anleu's arrest spread through the Twitter community, thousands of others started "re-tweeting" his message, bringing Guatemala's government still more unwanted publicity.

About half of his $6,200 bail was donated by Twitterers, who sent money via PayPal from 19 countries. The other 50% was lent to him by one of the companies he works for as a business technology consultant.

And Anleu's social network has grown to more than 1,600 followers, up from about 175 who before his arrest mostly shared tweets about "computers and other geeky stuff," he says.

Some call this phenomenon the "Streisand effect," a term coined by Techdirt chief executive Mike Masnick on his popular technology blog after the actress Barbra Streisand sued in 2003 to remove satellite photos of her estate in Malibu, Calif. The case just drove more attention to the photos and made them more widely accessible.

The Internet has become a potent organizing tool for opponents of Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom. In a videotaped message from a lawyer, Colom was accused of helping drug cartels launder money through Banrural. The lawyer, Rodrogo Rosenberg, said in the message that if he was killed, it would be because Colom ordered it. Rosenberg was shot dead by unknown assailants days after making the video.

DVDs of the tape were distributed at his funeral, and Colom opponents quickly put the video up on YouTube. Many Guatemalans — including Anleu — responded with outrage on social networks, encouraging huge protest marches.

Colom, the first leftist president since a CIA-orchestrated coup overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, said the accusations are part of an elaborate plot to destabilize the country. His foreign minister suggested the entire scandal might be staged by organized crime groups who might have forced Rosenberg to tape the message under threats.

The upheaval since then is arguably the first truly online phenomenon in this country where Internet is still far beyond the reach of the majority of the population. And because most poorer Guatemalans who support Colom have little chance of logging on, Colom's supporters are vastly outnumbered. The Facebook group "Guatemalans united ask for the resignation of Alvaro Colom" has 41,000 members, about a third of Facebook's reported Guatemalan population, while "Solidarity with Alvaro Colom" has fewer than 150 this week.

Anleu, however, is trying to keep his tweets more restrained and less political.

His lawyer hopes this will all blow over and the trial, set for November, will never happen.

"The prosecutors will eventually see their mistake, that they got the wrong person, someone innocent," Toledo said.

Even so, Anleu's legal bills will run close to $10,000 by year's end — a tough blow for a man who volunteers in his spare time to bring open-source software and training to schools in poor neighborhoods.

"When this is over, I want to travel, I want to see the world ... sit in a cafe in Budapest or Prague," that Kafka might have frequented a century ago, Anleu said. First, he said, "comes paying all these bills."

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