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Secrets Are In Style

Sergio Roitberg - March 14, 2013

@Pontifex is no longer tweeting. His million and a half followers eagerly awaited the new pope, Jorge Bergoglio, without knowing whether he would retain the user name or adopt a new one. Really, little is known about the events surrounding the papal succession. Or why Pope Benedict XVI even resigned in the first place. Secrets are suddenly the latest fashion.
Joseph Ratzinger announced his departure from the Holy See without any warning. Not a clue—not a single detail—was leaked. In the age of technology, in which social networks serve to instantly amplify even the most trivial events, no one was able to anticipate one of the biggest scoops of the year.
How long ago did Ratzinger come to the decision? Who did he tell? How did he choose just the right moment to announce his resignation?
If any rumors existed, they were quietly quashed. If there were any meetings, they were held in secret. If anyone was consulted, they kept it to themselves. It sounds incredible that this happened in 2013, but it did.
Something similar happened surrounding the death of Hugo Chavez, not to mention his mysterious illness. His handlers decided it would be best to seek treatment in Cuba, where information flow could be controlled and unwanted political speculation suppressed . That is to say, politics were placed ahead of his health.
The Chavismo movement could have been severely damaged if any information about the Venezuelan president’s real condition and the had been leaked. Many people would have called for early elections. Many more would have  decried the power vacuum.
Perhaps the details will soon be divulged on WikiLeaks, although judging by the rigorous and detailed efforts taken by the Chavez government to keep the lid on, it’s anything but likely.
The creation of an alternate reality, one in which Chavez was fighting hard for his beliefs as well as his life, formed the heart of the electoral campaign that won him his most recent reelection  and that Nicolas Maduro, his appointed successor also hopes to ride to victory.
Much of this strategy played out on the very day the death of Chavez was announced. Maduro, Chavez´s vice president, made two curtain calls,the first, to expose an alleged conspiracy,the second, to confirm its tragic consequence. The two shocking moments captivated the attention of the Venezuelan public, keeping them glued to their televisions.
Venezuelans still do not know for sure that cancer is what led to the demise of Chavez, or exactly when he died. Many suspect, in hushed tones, that he had died long before it was officially announced. Who’s to say? There’s no way to check. At least, not yet…
Just like @Pontifex, @ChavezCandanga took advantage of social networks, gathering followers and setting his agenda 140 characters at a time. But when it came time to share the most critical information—about himself—he chose silence.
In both situations, silence was made possible by a host of decisions in the hands of a coordinated few working effectively. While it was a risky strategy, it worked. The impenetrable shield of silence became a powerful tool in their defense.
In the case of the Pope, it evaded the precipitation of a debate on papal succession that would have paralyzed the church at a crucial time. For Chavez, it helped to draw public sympathy and political advantage to his party, ahead of the presidential elections.
Benedict XVI and Chavez come from another generation, but realized the benefits of the modern era. The immediacy and abundance of information that brought about major events such as the Arab Spring could also be manipulated with sound strategy and a cool head. Of course, while you can control what you share with the world, what others wish to share is another matter.
Now I finally have the answer to a question a friend posed to me a year ago: Why would you want to share your entire life with the world? You wouldn’t—just the part you want people to see.


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