Latin America’s revolutionary left is attempting to make “the people’s struggle” truly popular once again by opening a new flank in cyberspace. And the strategy appears to be paying off, at least in numbers.
Slightly more than a year after opening a Twitter account to post his “Reflections” on world affairs and diatribes against US global meddling, Cuba’s aging revolutionary patriarch Fidel Castro has reached 100,000 followers. In fact, he blew right past the mark, registering more than 800 new followers today alone (672 more followers than I have attracted to my sad little Twitter account – The Nica Tim – in more than five lonely months).
But not even Twitter, which limits posts to 140 characters, has been able to persuade Mr. Castro of the importance of brevity. Thanks to URL-shortening service bit.ly, Castro – a man once known for giving tireless six-hour speeches under the hot Cuban sun – can use Twitter to link to his Reflections posted on other sites, which are as garrulous and adjective-laden as one might expect from the bearded octogenarian.
As he himself only follows 19 people on Twitter, Castro appears to have short patience for others' rants.
Still, a captive audience of 100,000 people is quite a feat, especially considering none of those people were bused in to the plaza and forced to be attentive.
And, given Cuba’s low Internet connectivity rate, one can also assume that most of those who are following Castro are off-island supporters rather than Cuban state workers required to support their leader.
Venezuela’s loquacious President Hugo Chávez has also found a home for his rhetoric in cyberspace. With nearly 1.3 million Twitter followers, Mr. Chávez often posts from his BlackBerry – giving him double cool points.
Unlike Castro, who uses Twitter mostly to refer readers to his manifestos posted on other sites, Chávez uses Twitter for brief updates on his daily or political affairs, or to post "¡Viva!-so-and-so" slogans, usually punctuated with a double exclamation points, to show he really means it!!
"Greetings to all the governors, mayors, and spokesmen and women of Popular Power!! I invite you all to build a new Country!!" – Chávez posted recently.
While most of Chávez’s posts aren’t the most exciting thing on the Internet, at least he’s trying. In Nicaragua, meanwhile, Sandinista President Daniel Ortega has yet to take his first tentative steps into cyberspace.
President Ortega, 65, who is arguably much more old-fashioned and conservative than even Fidel, nearly twenty years his senior, apparently still thinks the best way to reach the masses is in the plaza and on the radio. Though the Sandinista Youth has attempted to draw a following on Facebook, their leader is still very much offline.
What remains to be seen is whether Ortega – who starts all his speeches with a prolonged "aaaaaaaahhhhhh" (10 percent of a Twitter post) – will eventually join the Internet age in 2011, an election year in Nicaragua.
If he does, he’ll find some stiff competition to put up popularity numbers such as those enjoyed by comrades Castro and Chávez. And that could possibly touch off an online revolutionary rivalry.