By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's verbose Hugo Chavez is reaching out to voters with tweets sent as text messages to even the most basic mobile phones as the socialist president fights a vigorous opposition campaign in the Twitter-mad country ahead of an October 7 election.
Chavez has had three cancer operations in the last year and his delicate health means he has not been able to travel anywhere near as much as his younger rival, Henrique Capriles.
Instead, he has had to focus on making regular state TV appearances - usually for several hours at a time, almost every day of late - and pontificating via his @chavezcandanga Twitter account, which has nearly 3.2 million followers.
The president's online persona is an important part of his team's strategy in an election battle that is shaping into the toughest fight of his political life.
Spurred by an explosion in Twitter's popularity in Venezuela and annoyed at what he said was the opposition's domination of local electronic media, Chavez began tweeting in early 2010.
His account quickly overtook one belonging to Globovision, the main opposition TV station, and he soon said he had needed to hire 200 people to help him read and respond to what he called an "avalanche" of messages from supporters, requests for help, and complaints about faulty services and corruption.
Delighted with his cyber success, he even urged Cuba's Fidel Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales to start tweeting too.
The three men are arguably Latin America's most vocal left-wing critics of what they denounce as the U.S. "empire."
VENEZUELA'S MOST FOLLOWED
While the 57-year-old Chavez says he is completely cured of cancer, his recuperation means he has had to watch while Capriles, a 40-year-old former state governor, spent months crisscrossing the OPEC nation on a "house by house" tour.
On Sunday, Capriles is due to lead a large march through the capital Caracas in what the diverse opposition coalition hopes will be its latest show of strength and unity behind its candidate. Continued...