Why President Hugo Chávez's Twitter Account Went Silent

PHOTO: A heart-shaped mural shows an image of Venezuelas President Hugo Chavez hugging a woman in Caracas.

As the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez convalesces in Havana, his popular Twitter account @chavezcandanga has been dormant since last November, leaving his nearly 3.9 million followers in the dark.

The latest post to the account is dated November 1, 2012 at 7:42 p.m., nearly two and a half months ago. In the tweet, Chávez congratulates a group graduating in African studies.

"I salute [the men and women] graduating from the 1st Cohort of the African Studies Bachelors! Long live the African Motherland!!" reads the message.

Used by Chávez as a tool of virtual government, @chavezcandanga had about 3,898,842 followers with a total of 1,821 tweets as of January 16, 2013.

The president was also following 23 others on Twitter, including his own daughter Maria Gabriela Chávez (@maby80 ); the recently appointed Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua (@JauaMiranda ); Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Assembly (@decabellor ); an account which publicizes the "Reflections of Fidel Castro" (@reflexionfidel ); and the Latin-American presidents Dilma Rousseff (@dilmabr ), Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina ) and Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael ).

According to Diplomatic Sources consulted by Univision Investiga, the apparent suspension of Chávez's Twitter account was a recommendation by the Castro brothers, who see the popular micro-blogging tool as a double-edged sword.

"Twitter use has been crucial to spark popular revolts in the Middle East, and the magnitude and penetration of Twitter users in Venezuela could represent a serious threat to the Chávez regime," said a Venezuelan diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

For Pedro Burelli, a Washington based political analyst and commentator, the demand generated by @chavezcandanga exceeded the government's capacity to react.

"The lack of answers to the petitions from the @chavezcandanga followers was generating a bad image and frustrating many people seeking solutions to their problems," said Burelli.

The analyst added that neither Fidel nor Raul Castro liked Chávez using Twitter because they considered the messaging service a "double-edged sword of the empire."

Chávez announced the launch of his Twitter account in late April 2010. A few days later, on May 8, he gave it the character of a "Social Mission."

The first tweet: "what's up? I showed up as I said: at midnight I leave for Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will prevail!"

During its first week, the account picked up more than 250,000 followers, and the president received more than 53,000 messages, many of them asking for assistance with problems or personal needs.

The president ordered the creation of a situation room and [the establishment] of a team 200 strong to administer the account, which was getting an average of 9,000 messages per day.

On many occasions, Chávez informed followers through @chavezcandanga about the progress of his medical treatment for cancer.

On October 17, 2011, for example, he wrote from Havana: "Hello my fellow countrymen! The first tests are over for the day… tomorrow we will resume very early. We wait with faith in God!"

Three months before, he expressed his views on the soccer match between Ecuador and Venezuela. "Venezuela on the offensive! What a game! Long live the Alba!!"

According to sources, the 200-person Twitter team was slowly disbanded and the account ended up being administered by a small group of employees from the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, which reported to Chávez on a daily basis regarding the messages and trending topics.

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