Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said he approved $500 million to revamp the naval infantry. Nice hunk of cash. That was just one in a long list of announcements that Chavez has made recently — on Twitter.
Chavez is battling cancer and his frequent absences — for radiation treatment in Cuba — are fanning speculation that his rule could soon come to an end.
It hasn’t helped that the ailing president, up for re-election in October, is reduced to presidential speeches at 140 characters max.
Or maybe it does help his popularity, in a country that just can’t tweet enough.
When Chavez launched onto Twitter in April 2010, he clocked up nearly 95,000 followers in the 36 hours since he sent his first message, reported Charlie Devereux for GlobalPost. (Of course, Chavez is one of many world leaders on Twitter.)
Now Chavez’s handle @chavezcandanga has 2,885,201 followers. That might pale in comparison to its US counterpart @BarackObama (14,938,747). But Chavez’s following is equal to over 10 percent of Venezuela’s population. Obama’s not even clocking at a 5 percent equivalent of the US population.
So it is striking to find Friday’s BBC Mundo story (roughly translated as) “Chavez announces multimillion expenditures on Twitter” — stressing in the headline that the news is not just big spending, but also his chosen mode of communication.
In addition to the navy package, Chavez tweeted from Cuba about fresh resources for the sugar cane sector, lower inflation in April, and a cool $255 million for his government's communications team.
Has Chavez resorted to governing by Twitter?
That's what his main political rival, Henrique Capriles, has accused the president of. “Governing by Twitter, approving laws without consulting them with anyone, is to mock the Venezuelan people," said Capriles (809,434 followers), Reuters reported.
Chavez said that’s “absurd,” reports Devereux, for Bloomberg news agency. That quote came as Chavez marked his second anniversary on Twitter.
Happy second birthday, chavezcandanga! You’ve come a long way.
So, what's new in Venezuela? Only Twitter will tell.