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4.30.2010 Chavez Joins Twitter -- Will 140 Characters Be Enough?

By AOL News

(April 28) -- Hugo Chavez isn't known for brevity. The verbose Venezuelan regularly bores his subjects with unrelenting speeches that drag on for up to eight hours. But in a bid to counter his online imperialist foes, El Presidente signed up to Twitter and now faces the challenge of trimming his epic ramblings down to a mere 140 characters.

Chavez's arrival on the microblogging site was announced Tuesday by Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello, who tweeted: "Comrades, @Chavezcandanga has been reserved, soon we will have messages there from our comandante." (For anyone not fluent in Venezuelan Spanish, "candanga" means "daring" or "rebellious." Although in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America it more commonly translates as "devil.")

The president's first tweet landed soon after midnight. "Hey how's it going?" he wrote. "I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm off to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!" By this morning, the leftist leader had clocked up some 37,000 followers -- a long way off the 7 million fans Cabello had earlier claimed the president would collect.

Although Chavez is highly aware of the power of self-publicity -- he has his own weekly TV show, radio program and newspaper column -- the president is a latecomer to Venezuela's burgeoning social media scene. There are more than 200,000 Twitter accounts in the country -- the service grew by 1,000 percent there last year -- one of the highest per capita rates of usage in Latin America.

Unfortunately for the president, the country's most famous Twitterers are also ardent opponents of his government. As Chavez has cracked down and closed many opposition TV stations, his rivals now use the microblogging site to broadcast their opinions and organize protests. According to media news site telecomtv.com, seven of the country's Top 10 most followed accounts are anti-Chavez. And Globovision (@Globovision), one of Venezuela's few remaining opposition TV networks, regularly rates among the world's Top 20 most influential Twitterers.

His opponents have even commandeered the account name @Hugo_Chavez, which since 2008 has been used to mock the president. (Here's one of the most recent tweets: "Nationalize the Twitter! Twitter is a terrorism tool for oppression!")

Chavez started to wake up to the power of the Web last month, when he ordered his followers to sign up to social networking sites and "bombard" his opponents. "The Internet is a battle trench because it is bringing a current of conspiracy," Chavez said. He suggested that tweeting, when done by ill-intentioned rivals, could be a form of terrorism.

Critics claim those statements show that Chavez intends to copy China and Iran and start censoring the Web; a feat he could accomplish by redirecting all Internet traffic through the state telecom company. He rejected the allegations, despite having previously stated that the Internet "cannot be free."