Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cuba vs. Twitter

As happens every few months, a rumor surfaced on the internet this week that the 85-year-old Fidel Castro had died. Just like the last round of gossip, which occurred in August, it proved to be entirely unfounded.  According to the Latin America News Dispatch, the rumor mongering began on Twitter, with several users citing a non-existent publication called “Cuba Press” as their source.

While these rumors are nothing new, the response by Cuban state media shows just how out of touch the country is with the internet age. In an incendiary article on, the government-run website accuses Twitter itself as having a role in spreading the gossip, because it allowed “#fidelcastro” to become a trending topic. Cubadebate also said Twitter allowed a site user named "Naroh" to start the rumor on Monday from an Italian server, which they claim he has deleted.

But as the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Flock notes, the holder of @Naroh “appears to be neither Italian nor defunct, but rather Madrid-based, Spanish-speaking and quite active on Twitter.” Naroh claims his real name is David Fernandez, and expressed puzzlement over why he had been singled out for initially making the claim, considering that a look at his Twitter page shows he merely re-tweeted posts on the story from other people.

Cubadebate’s assault against Twitter (which has responded by pointing out that it does not mediate content) is laughable, as is the Cuban site’s odd attempt to target a seemingly random Twitter user. Far from the “necrophiliac counterrevolutionaries” that Cubadebate accuses them of being, those who reposted the rumors are simply participating in a key function of Twitter: to spread information (accurate or not).

Of course, this may be difficult to grasp in a country where a maximum 16 percent of the population has some kind of access to the internet, even six months after the installation of an underwater fiber-optic cable which was supposed to dramatically increase access to the web.

News Briefs

·         The LA Times reports on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming visit to Latin America, which it characterizes as “apparent effort to show he is not a universal pariah.” While the details of Ahmadinejad’s itinerary have not been released, he is expected to begin in Venezuela this Sunday, and visit Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador from there. Prensa Libre reports that he will also be in Guatemala for the inauguration of the president-elect Otto Perez Molina.

·         Benjamin Arellano Felix, the former Tijuana Cartel boss who was considered one of the top drug lords in Mexico in the ‘90s, plead guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges in a San Diego court yesterday. According to El Universal and the BBC, will be sentenced on April 2nd, and could be given 25 years in prison.

·         The Houston Chronicle has an interesting analysis of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s security strategy, which has focused on killing or capturing high value targets in an effort to destabilize the leadership structures of drug cartels. Eleven months before he leaves office, Calderon’s strategy has resulted in the arrest of several mid-level cartel leaders, but few actual “capos.”

·         El Salvador’s National Civil Police has announced that the country saw 4,354 murders in 2011, up from 3,987 in 2010.  InSight Crime reports that this brings the country’s homicide rate to 65 per 100,000, which is the highest it has been since the end of the civil war in 1992. Over at Central American Politics, Michael Allison plays with this figure, using various population estimates to provide slightly different homicide rates.

·         Guatemala took a seat at the UN Security Council this week after being elected to a temporary position in the body in October. Plaza Publica takes a look at how Guatemala hopes to use the seat to pursue its interests this year, and suggests that President-elect Molina’s invitation to Ahmadinejad represents a potential shift away from U.S. foreign policy interests.

·         In an editorial published today, the LA Times issues a stinging rebuke of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ attempts to expand the military’s power to  internally investigate accusations of human rights abuses committed by members of the armed forces.

·         After Colombian security forces killed the leader of the neo-paramilitary gang known as the Urabeños on Sunday, members of the group shut down businesses and closed major roads in the northwest of the country. According to Caracol and Colombia Reports, the group carried out their show of force in the name of the “Autodefensas Gaitanistas,” a reference to the group’s old name and an indication that it still sees itself in the context of the country’s armed conflict.

·         In a move that almost seems calculated to anger Chile’s student-driven education reform movement, the country’s National Education Council has decided to change the description of the military government which ruled the country from1973 to 1990 in educational textbooks. In place of the word “dictatorship,” the government of General Augusto Pinochet will be referred to as a “regime.” El Ciudadano reports that the Chilean National Institute of Human Rights has objected to the change, calling it an attempt to moderate Pinochet’s legacy.

·         According to Argentina’s La Nacion, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer over the holidays, has been successfully operated on and is expected to make a full recovery.

·         The Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter looks at what 2012 holds for the region, with a focus on upcoming elections in three countries: Mexico, Venezuela and the United States. According to Shifter, all three have the potential to “alter the political map and relations in the Americas.”

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