BUENOS AIRES – Whenever Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez uses Twitter, controversy often follows. Although tweet discussions range in content and frequency, there's never a lack of debate.
Fernandez, who almost never gives interviews or takes questions from reporters, often uses her official Twitter account, https://twitter.com/CFKArgentina , which claims more than 2.2 million followers, to have a direct connection to the people.
There was that time when she sent more than 60 tweets in a single day after a wide protest by thousands of Argentines critical of her government. Or the many times she has attacked her political opponents and media outlets, accusing them of twisting the truth and defaming her.
Then, there are lighter Tweets: pictures with Pope Francis, a boxing champion, and her dogs. Or her recounting of casual conversations with Argentines on the road, the birth of her grandson, and even her musings over her favorite TV show.
"I'm a fan of the series Games of Thrones. I love it," Fernandez tweeted on April 28.
"When the DirecTV people came to see me to announce some investments I asked them if they could please get me season three ... I'm sure that tomorrow someone from the opposition will denounce me for asking and receiving gifts."
In a major departure from Fidel Castro's four-hour speeches, Twitter's 140 characters or less have become a leading communication tool for presidents throughout Latin America.
An example of this was seen recently when Bolivia's Evo Morales' plane was grounded in Vienna amid incorrect suspicions that National Security Agency leader Edward Snowden was on board. The region's leaders used Twitter to express their disapproval.
"All international immunities that protect heads of state have been violated for the empire's obsession," tweeted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, referring to the United States. Maduro's account, https://twitter.com/NicolasMaduro , has nearly 1.3 million followers.
Maduro has used Twitter to argue with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin. He often slams Venezuela's wealthy, makes grammatical errors, and fondly remembers his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
For many Venezuelans, monitoring Twitter became a must after Chavez joined the social media platform in late April 2010, according to comScore, an internet monitoring site. Chavez's account still leads the pack of Latin American leaders with 4 million Twitter followers.
In a politically divided country like Venezuela, being able to influence the social media space is key. Almost one out of four Venezuelans in the country use Twitter regularly, comScore says.
Venezuelan officials "don't communicate first by television, radio or a speech, but through Twitter," said Javier Pereira, the El Nacional newspaper's website coordinator. "That has caused us to be alert, monitoring constantly."
Venezuela, along with Brazil and Argentina, ranks among the world's top 10 in the use of Twitter. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told The Associated Press in an interview why he likes platform so much. With 2 million followers, http://twitter.com/JuanManSantos ranks third for Latin America leaders — dead or alive — after Chavez and Fernandez.
"I use it sometimes to send messages to clarify certain things, to communicate with the country," said Santos. "You sent out a tweet and immediately, if it's something important, it comes out in the media. Instead of making so many press conferences, you use Twitter."
Almost two-thirds of world leaders have joined the Twitterverse, according to an analysis last year of 264 government accounts in 125 countries that the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller described as the first-ever global study of world leaders using the platform.
The most-followed account of any world leader, https://www.twitter.com/BarackObama , which has more than 35 million followers. But Latin American leaders continue to gain ground a tweet a time. They have become more adept on the social network than their European counterparts and rank among the world's top 20 most-followed leaders.
Luis Velarde in Washington, D.C, Vicente Marquez in Caracas, Venezuela, Belen Bogado in Asuncion, Paraguay, Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
Michael Warren is on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/.mwarrenap