[Fwd: FWD> Internet and Latin America (fwd)]

Wed, 15 Jan 1997 12:37:04 -0500
christopher chase-dunn (chriscd@jhu.edu)

Tue, 14 Jan 1997 18:33:23 -0500 (EST)
Tue, 14 Jan 1997 18:33:16 -0500 (EST)
14 Jan 1997 17:27:57 -0600 (CST)
by mcfeeley.cc.utexas.edu (8.7.6/8.7.3/mcfeeley.mc-1.17)
14 Jan 1997 17:25:26 -0600 (CST)
14 Jan 1997 16:26:40 -0700 (MST)
14 Jan 1997 16:25:21 -0700 (MST)
14 Jan 1997 16:25:20 -0700 (MST)
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 18:24:07 -0500
From: Molly Molloy <mmolloy@LIB.NMSU.EDU>
Subject: FWD> Internet and Latin America (fwd)
Sender: owner-lasnet@mcfeeley.cc.utexas.edu
To: lala-l <lala-l@uga.cc.uga.edu>, LASNET <lasnet@mcfeeley.cc.utexas.edu>,
Lois Stanford <lstanfor@NMSU.EDU>
Reply-to: mmolloy@LIB.NMSU.EDU

Here's an interesting new article!!
Molly Molloy New Mexico State University Library Las Cruces, NM 88003
505-646-6931 mmolloy@lib.nmsu.edu http://lib.nmsu.edu/staff/mmolloy

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 97 16:03:06 CDT
From: Ron E. Mader <ron@txinfinet.com>
To: mexico2000@mep-d.org, latco@psg.com
Subject: FWD> Internet and Latin America

Cyberculture Comes to the Americas
by Barbara Belejack (102334.201@CompuServe.COM)

Kunanqa rihsisunchisya Runa Simita, inkakunah rimayninta, Kay
musuhanpi, Supercarretera de Informacion, Internetpa

Even for those without a word of Quechua, the phrase
Supercarretera de Informacion, Internetpa,. is a dead give-away:
"Let's learn Quechua, language of the Incas, the modern way, via
the information highway through the light of the Internet."

The message appeared in a Lima newsweekly last July, directing
readers to the web page of the Peruvian Scientific Network (RCP),
a non-profit, user-financed consortium of individual, academic,
non-governmental, business and public-sector members. It was
founded in Lima in 1991 with one computer, three modems and 7,000
dollars in seed money from the United Nations Development Program
(UNDP). In 1994 the RCP connected to the backbone of the National
Science Foundation (NSF) and now includes over 3,000
member-organizations and nearly 60,000 individual users. In the
words of director Jose Soriano, it is an autonomous network that
strictly applies the concept of the Internet -- a network of
national networks that belongs to no one and everyone.

On the telecommunications-fair circuit, where he is a frequent
speaker, Soriano makes a passionate case for a regional Latin
American backbone -- the necessary infrastructure that would allow
the Internet to be used to the fullest extent as a developmental
tool. A Latin American backbone would decentralize the use of
communications technology beyond the major cities, and lessen the
region's dependence on satellite connection to the United States.
He portrays the Internet as a latter-day version of Bolvar's dream
and the last chance to reverse centuries of centralization in Peru
that have concentrated economic development in Lima and isolated
much of the countryside.

During the 1994 Miami Summit of the Americas, Internet
connectivity was declared a priority for the region and the
Organization of American States (OAS), the NSF and the UNDP have
been responsible for much of the recent push for full
connectivity. All countries in the hemisphere have at least simple
e-mail connections and with few exceptions, most are connected to
the Internet. (In September Cuba connected through Sprint
in the United States.) By far the most networked nation in the
region is Brazil, where the Internet has been featured on a TV
Globo soap opera. According to Matrix Information and Data Systems
in Austin, Texas, the opening up of the Internet market in Brazil
has resulted in 2,333% growth between January 1995 and January 1996.

Although they may be just as confused about the role of print
media in cyberspace as their counterparts north of the Rio Grande,
most major publications in Latin America are on the Internet, and
most have a special computer section or at least a computer
columnist to chronicle the many wonders of cyberspace. And when an
attorney with ties to the drug world was shot and killed in a
Monterrey restaurant last spring, the newspaper El Norte obtained
his computer diskettes and published dozens of incriminating
letters on its web site. Soon after, the governor of the state of
Nuevo Leon resigned and was charged with masterminding the
attorney's murder.

The range of cyberactivities is coming to resemble the computer
supermarket of the North. Brazil's largest bank offers electronic
banking; Mexco's largest private university is pioneering a
virtual university; a Venezuelan e-zine points readers to web
sites devoted to Hillary Clinton's hair. And like up north,
computer-culture personalities have captured the popular
imagination; the Latin American journeys of Bill Gates make for
front page headlines throughout the region. But aside from
cyberscoops and technological prowess, what does the Internet have
to offer in the way of cultural and politics? Does it differ from
radio, television, public-access cable television, video and all
the other technological innovations touted as great equalizers and
promoters of democracy? Is there anything really different going
on now?

While RCP prides itself on its computer stations--.cabinas publicas. -- that
make the Internet available to those without computers at home, "available" is
relative concept in a country where only 20% of the population is adequately
employed and the
cost of a basic basket of consumer goods exceeds the average
worker's salary. According to a preliminary study of the RCP
conducted by University of Lima sociologist Javier Diaz-Albertini,
the average individual member is male, university-educated, 28
years old and resides in a high-income district of Lima.

The Internet should be seen as a tool -- no more, no less, says
Scott Robinson, an anthropologist who coordinates Mexico's Rural
Information Network on the non-profit LaNeta network. Robinson is
less concerned about the number of individual users in the region
than the number of barriers that appear when information and
databases become products in nations that never developed a
culture of freedom of information. And as Soriano somewhat
reluctantly admits, perhaps it is time to start talking about "two
Internets." The current one, he conjectures, with all the
wonderful, full-graphic and video applications may be confined to
North-South communication for the elites of the region, while
there may also be a South-South Internet of lower quality
connecting Latin American countries to one another.

"We should not simply abandon this technology because it is
unlikely that all the people will have direct access to it," says
Carlos Afonso of the network of the Brazilian Institute of Social
and Economic Analysis (IBASE), a progressive think tank and
umbrella organization based in Rio de Janeiro. The fact is that
popular organizations can use the medium and are using it as a
powerful instrument for democratization of information and
exchange of common plans, policies and strategies. Until mid-1994,
Internet access in Brazil was limited to a select portion of the
academic community. The only organization providing services
outside academia was AlterNex, the network of IBASE. The country
now has the most extensive regulation of the Internet; phone
companies are prohibited from providing access services to end
users and the Brazilian government subsidizes the development of
the Internet backbone structure.

Just as in the United States, the Internet in Latin America is
shifting from a primarily academic-based model with its origins in
departments of engineering and computer science, to a commercial
model. In the United States the process took 20 years; in Latin
America it has happened much more rapidly and in the context of
privatization and deregulation of national telephone companies,
and the specter of a handful of corporations carving out global

One of the first countries in the region to experiment with the
Internet was Mexico, where efforts to connect networks at the
National Autonomous University in Mexico City (UNAM) and the
private Technological Institute of Monterrey (ITESM or Monterrey
Tec) began over a decade ago. In 1985 the computer science
department at the University of Chile began experimenting with
UUCP (UNIX-to- UNIX copy program, an early technology that uses
ordinary modems and phone lines to handle e-mail and network
news), and in 1987 Chile became the first Latin American nation,
followed by Argentina, to enter the UUCP network with access to
e-mail and USENET. (Among the factors contributing to the early
development of the Internet in Argentina and Uruguay was the
return of political exiles who had been teaching and researching
at U.S. and European universities.) Chile's two competing academic
networks are now commercial.

To a great extent, the development of the progressive movement of
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Latin America is a product
of the development of the "other Internet," the one without the
glitz. Internet connections made an increasing number of alliances
possible across borders. Alliances on environmental, human rights,
labor and other issues have been facilitated by the Association
for Progressive Communications (APC), a global network, comprised
of 20 member networks in 135 countries, including the Institute
for Global Communications (IGC) which operates PeaceNet, EcoNet,
ConflictNet, LaborNet and WomensNet in the United States. Two of
the earliest activist networks in Latin America were IBASE
AlterNex and Nicarao, the electronic mail node established by APC
in Nicaragua in 1985 in response to the U.S. hostility to the
Sandinista government.

The campaign against the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) in the early 1990s created alliances among organizations
in the United States, Mexico and Canada, many of which shared
communication via APC networks. Those networks, along with
academic newsgroups, mobilized almost immediately after the
January 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, and again in February
1995, in the wake of increased militarization. More recently,
activists began laying the foundation for an Intercontinental
"Network of Alternative Communication" (RICA in Spanish) as a way
to consolidate already existing social communications networks
and to share organizing strategies.

Another Internet-based effort to bypass traditional media is
Pulsar, a Quito-based project that functions as a low-budget,
grassroots news agency for community radio stations throughout
Latin America. Financed in part by the Canadian government's
international-education fund, Pulsar serves as an alternative wire
service for community radio stations, effectively bypassing the
traditional wire services whose services are too expensive and
whose stories reflect a heavy U.S. or European bias. Using the
Internet, Pulsar staff gather stories from newspapers such as La
Jornada in Mexico or La Republica in Lima, rewrite the news in
"broadcast" format, and distribute the newscasts by e-mail. The
project is establishing a network of correspondents who will help
pool information, and plans call for an eventual exchange of
stories among community radio stations throughout the region.

Perhaps the most important role of the Internet to grassroots
organizations involves the simplest technology--the use of
e-mail--not only to mobilize around human rights and environmental
emergencies, but to cut costs. "I can't conceive of any other way
of doing our work," explains Ernesto Morales, who directs the
Mexico City office of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. In
addition to daily correspondence, the Commission is mandated by
the United Nations to prepare four quarterly reports a year in
English and Spanish which are distributed through e-mail.

Although the Commission's offices in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica
and Spain have become dependent on the Internet, that's not yet
the case in Guatemala, where traditionally military officials have
held high positions in the state-run phone company. Telephone
service is now privatized, but Guatemalans have become accustomed
to assuming that telephone conversations are tapped. As Morales
explains, both "a culture of terror," as well as technological
backlog have to be overcome.

Another concern to activists and NGOs is the growing body of
"cyberwar" and "netwar" literature pioneered by Rand Corporation
analyst David Ronfeldt, who along with David Arquilla of the U.S.
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, coined the
terms in a 1993 article "CyberWar is Coming!" In 1993, Ronfeldt
was thinking along the lines of a potential threat from an updated
version of the Mongol hordes that would upset the etablished
hierarchy of institutions. He predicted that communication would
be increasing organizing "into cross-border networks and
coalitions, identifying more with the development of civil society
(even global civil society) than with nation-states, and using
advanced information and communictions technologies to strengthen
their activities." By 1995 Ronfeldt was characterizing the
Zapatista activists as highly successful in limiting the
government's maneuverability, and warning that "the country that
produced the prototype social revolution of the 20th century may
now be giving rise to the prototype social netwar of the 21st

When the cabinas publicas finally arrived in Cuzco last summer,
they were installed with great ceremony by local and university
officials at the University of San Antonio Abad. Soon after, RCP's
homepage began appearing in Quechua, as well as Spanish and
English. Soriano insists that the Internet must reflect local
language and culture and not just be a window for Peruvians to
view the wonders of the United States. To finance the growth of
the Internet and projects deemed not commercially viable, RCP has
begun a series of joint ventures with commercial businesses,
leading to charges that the non-profit consortium is trying to
dominate the Internet in Peru.

Since its founding, RCP has battled with the various incarnations
of the Peruvian phone company as well as with government officials
suspicious of an independent communications network that has an
obvious appeal to human rights and other NGOs. Soriano insists
that the private telephone monopoly, Telefonica del Peru has
deliberately stonewalled on the installation of infrastructure in
the provinces and charged steep prices for long-distance services
to cover the inflated price at which it purchased the public
telephone company. Since purcasing the state-owned service in
1993, Telefonica enjoys a five-year monopoly that Soriano describes
as a modern-day version of the Conquest. (Telefonica's majority
owner is Telefonica de Espana, whose international division is very
active in Latin America, with a stake in the telephone companies
of Agentina, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, and Puerto Rico as well
as Peru.)

The Internet itself, of course, is in transition. Existing main
data pipes of the Internet backbone are not paying for themselves,
and veteran net watchers like Carlos Afonso foresee an eventual
dual pricing scheme, classifying services into lower and higher
priority in terms of real-time data transfer. In the United
States, the trend is toward increasing specialization of the
Internet, with service providers turning into information
providers and purchasing bulk modem time from phone companies, or
from firms that buy lines in bulk from phone companies. That trend
has not yet begun in Latin America, but it will. In the meantime, Internet
watchers in the region would do well to see that the growing gap that
writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique
describes as the fundamental challenge for the 21st century--the
gap between "the slow" and "the connected" -- does not grow any bigger
than it already is.

A version of this article appeared in NACLA Report on the Americas
Contact the author via email at 102334.201@CompuServe.COM
Contact NACLA at nacla@igc.apc.org


Ron E. Mader, Publisher El Planeta Platica: Eco Travels in Latin America WWW http://www.planeta.com ron@txinfinet.com ------------------------------------------------------------ InfiNet - an online community for progressive information BBS 512.462.0633 Telnet://shakti.txinfinet.com:3000 WWW http://www.greenbuilder.com