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After Chavez, Social Media Picks Up for Venezuelan Politicians and Censors

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, March 20 2013

"He's becoming a wax doll." Pérez's tweet from March 8.

Longtime Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have passed away earlier this month, but that won’t silence his voice on social media.  Chavez’s official Twitter account, from which he last tweeted to 4 million-plus followers in February as he entered the hospital, will be reactivated as a platform for the leader’s thoughts and works, as state media announced last week.  Yet recent reports of social media censorship – including a woman whose computer was confiscated by the police – confirm that, in the aftermath of Chavez’s death, Venezuela is taking a hard line on online discourse. 

Global Voices reported last week that the Venezuelan Scientific Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps detained Lourdes Alicia Ortega Pérez on March 14 and removed her personal computer from her home.  The crime committed by the 53-year-old resident of the northern city of Barquisimeto [Spanish] was a tweet, sent on March 8 from Pérez’s account to another user who asked what had killed Chavez. 

“I don’t know,” Pérez wrote, “but he’s becoming a wax doll.” This seems to have been partially in response to plans – since abandoned – to embalm Chavez’s body for permanent display à la Lenin

The extreme retaliation to this tweet, which officials said was “destabilizing the country,” [Spanish] has brought forth bemused reactions from the Venezuelan Internet.  #Tuit Desestabilizador (“destabilizing tweet”) has been trending this past week, with users attaching the hashtag to other harmless jokes, like “[opposition presidential candidate Henrique] Capriles is hot.”

Others have used the hashtag to comment on the new social media presence of acting president Nicolas Maduro.  The interim leader of Venezuela joined Twitter on Sunday, doubtlessly aiming to ride the tails of the massive following amassed by Chavez.  Maduro will face Henrique Capriles in the country’s first presidential election in nearly fourteen years, to be held on April 14

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