lunes, 1 de octubre de 2007

Este blog se continua en otro lugar...

Este blog ha sido puesto fuera de producción y se ha continuado a partir de enero del 2007 en:

Los espero ...

domingo, 26 de noviembre de 2006

Peru: Der andere Weg ins Internet

Uwe Afemann Universität Osnabrück (Dezember 1998)

Peru ist ein Land mit ca. 25 Millionen Einwohnern. Das Bruttosozialprodukt pro Einwohner beträgt in diesem Andenstaat nur 3.939 Dollar und ca. die Hälfte aller Menschen lebt dort unterhalb der Armutsgrenze. Nicht zuletzt deshalb ging es wohl seinen eigenen Weg, um sich ans Internet anzuschließen.

Lateinamerikas Weg auf dem Datenhighway ins dritte Jahrtausend: Der Run auf das virtuelle Eldorado

Lateinamerikas Weg auf dem Datenhighway ins dritte Jahrtausend: Der Run auf das virtuelle Eldorado

Der Autor des folgenden Artikels, Dr. Joachim Gartz, ist Lateinamerikahistoriker an der Universität zu Köln und Autor des deutschsprachigen Internet-Führers zu dieser Region: ,Lateinamerika Online: Theorie und Praxis effizienter Internet Recherchen im virtuellen Eldorado".

The Internet, development, and democratization

Latin America On-line: The Internet, development, and democratization
Human Organization
Winter 1998


Authors: Margaret Everett

Volume: 57

Issue: 4

Start Page: 385

ISSN: 00187259

Copyright Society of Applied Anthropology Winter 1998

Full Text:

Increasingly, aid agencies are turning to information technology as a key
to promoting development and political reform. Internet proponents view
information as critical to solving such problems of environmental destruction,
disease, and authoritarianism. While the Internet poses intriguing possibilities
for enhancing economic competitiveness and political pluralism, it is also
creating new forms of exclusion and may lead to the neglect of other basic
development issues. Moreover, the proponents of the Internet expansion
in the Americas risk exacerbating rather than diminishing the dependency
and uneven growth of previous development schemes. This article explores
the current state of the Internet in Latin America and identifies some
of the contradictions which are apparent in the discussion and use of this
new technology in the region.

Key words: Internet, development, democracy; Latin America

The idea that information is the key to renewed economic growth, as well
as new forms of political participation and community has become ubiquitous
in American popular culture. Recent advertising campaigns, for example,
stress the anonymity and freedom of expression provided by the Internet.'
In contrast to previous Orwellian visions of the homogenizing and controlling
tendencies of technology, some now argue that technology can contribute
to the creation of "hybrid cultures" and to "autonomous social expression"
(Escobar 1995:410). Such claims exemplify what William Birdsall (1996)
calls the "ideology of information technology" - the assumption that information
and communication are the key not only to development and economic growth,
but to new forms of democracy and freedom. A wide array of disparate groups
are promoting the expansion of the Internet in Latin America. Businesses
argue that the Internet is crucial to achieving competitiveness in global
markets, governments tout the new technology as the road to modernization
and national development, and activists argue that the Internet allows
social movements to transcend borders and resist global political and economic

Latin America is one of the fastest areas of growth for the Internet in
the world. The number of "servers," or host computers, in Latin America
now tops 45,000 (Cura 1996:46). Another sign of growth: the computer market
in Latin America grew by twenty-one percent in 1995 (Cura 1996:48). Brazil
has one of the most extensive Internet infrastructures in the region, and
boasts satellite access from the Amazon. In Brazil, the Internet market
grew a staggering 2,333 percent between January 1995 and January 1996 (Belejack
1996:14). Commercial sites in Brazil grew 1,073% between January 1996 and
October 1996 (Marinho 1997). All Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil
now have Internet connections, and 19961997 figures indicate that the number
of hosts computers doubles every 12-15 months in the region (Molloy 1998).

Internet enthusiasm is infectious, and even skeptics of the euphoria are
dazzled by the capabilities of the "information super-highway." An April
1998 search of the Web using the keyword "Colombia," for example, yielded
over 85,000 sites with information on travel, business, politics, and current
events. Bogota's major newspapers, El Espectador and El Tempo, now have
Web sites where people around the world can get the day's top stories and
access the papers' on-line archives. Anyone who can connect to the World
Wide Web can check the current world price of coffee, and even access the
entire Bogota phone book. Through the homepage of the Red Cientifica Peruana
(RCP), Web surfers can access a wide variety of information related to
Peru, much of it available in English, Spanish, and Quechua. We can also
read Subcomandante Marcos's e-mail communiques from Chiapas, following
the romantic life of a rebel in the jungle through his manifestos, prose,
and poetry. A growing number of Web sites, posted in both Latin America
and the United States, provide an overwhelming amount of information about
cultural, political, and economic life in the region.

What will this new information technology, the "voyage into the permanently
ephemeral" as Michael Benedikt (1991) calls the cyberspace era, mean for
Latin America? How will it alter relations between North and South? What
will it really mean, after all the enthusiasm and promises of progress
and equality, for democracy and development in Latin America? As we begin
to explore these issues, it is just as important to avoid a romantic view
of technology as destroying the "culturally authentic," as to avoid the
equally romantic notion that technology inevitably and uniformly leads
to progress. In the remainder of this article, I will delineate a number
of the issues raised by the Internet for development and democratization
in Latin America. These are issues of some urgency since Latin American
governments, as well as multinational agencies and NGOs, are currently
making policy decisions of critical importance for the decades to come.

Francisco Sagasti's notion of a "global fractured order" is a useful starting
point for a critical assessment of the implications of the Internet for
Latin America. The current age, according to Sagasti, is characterized

an order that is global but not integrated; an order that puts most of
the world's people in contact with one another, but simultaneously maintains
deep fissures between different groups of countries and between peoples
within countries; an order that segregates a large portion of the world's
population and prevents it from sharing the benefits provided by scientific
advances and technological progress (1995:592).

Information does not always ensure progress, and integration does not ensure
equality. The latter point was argued by dependency theorists of the 1960s
and exemplified by many of the development debacles of the 1970s aimed
at "integration."2 Sometimes "integration" simply ties people to new forms
of oppression and dependency. While many agree that information technology
is leading to new forms of dependency, there is less agreement about what
to do about it. Ultimately, Sagasti and others argue that aggressive development
of technological infrastructure, training, and research in developing countries
is the only way to combat technological dependence. Yet even as the Internet
grows quickly throughout Latin America, we can see several limitations
to its broad use and accessibility. This is especially true for those who
have been traditionally excluded from other forms of democratic participation
and the benefits of economic growth. The very people that advocates argue
will benefit from the Internet -- those who live in rural areas and smaller
cities outside the capitals, participate in, social movements, or receive
assistance through development programs - are the most marginal to this
process of social change. With the rapid commercialization of the Internet,
occurring at an accelerating pace in Latin America, we can expect that
this new technology will exacerbate the conditions of marginality and dependency
for much of the population.

The Internet Expansion in Latin America

The enthusiasm for information technology and the Internet in particular
has resulted in a rapid growth in computer sales and Internet connectivity
in Latin America. Networks providing connections to the Internet are in
place and under construction in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Peru,Argentina,
Brazil, and elsewhere. Many Latin Americans are singing the praises of
the Internet as the key to the future and as a marker of modernity. The
Red Cientifica Peruana (RCP) tells potential subscribers that, "The information
explosion, globalization and constant change are today the keys to success
for any professional" (1996a:1). With similar enthusiasm, Hispanic magazine
emphasizes the Internet's ability to create "virtual communities," explaining
that, "It can build communities, not of brick, mortar, and concrete, but
of bits, bytes, and electrons" (Gonzalez 1996:26).

The RCP is one of the most successful networks in Latin America, providing
access to the Internet and the World Wide Web to individuals and organizations
throughout Peru. Founded in 1991, the RCP funds its operations with foreign
grants and subscribers fees. In August 1995, the RCP had approximately
9,000 users and by December 1996 it reported 60,000 individual users (La
Industria, 30 August 1995; Belejack 1996). The RCP cites a common development
theme in its mission statement: national development and integration. The
network will help connect the provinces to the capital, and Peru to the
world, thus aiding to break the country from its traditional political
and economic centralization. A clear attraction of the Internet in Latin
America is as a symbol of modernization and progress. The Peruvian press
coverage of the RCP has been overwhelmingly positive, touting the network
as a development milestone. One journal even suggests that Lima's street
vendors will be able to showcase their products to the world using the
new technology (Medio de Cambio, September 1995). Such claims seem especially
exaggerated given the limited access to the Internet in Latin America (see
below)especially given all the other constraints of capital and licensing
needed to start an export business which would still exclude street vendors
from such an endeavor.3

Another important goal of promoting the Internet in Latin America is that
of self-representation. As the Director of the RCP states, the service
hopes "to be a window through which the world can look into Peru rather
than the reverse" (Soriano 1996:4). The home page of the RCP is a sophisticated
example of such self-representation. At center screen, an ancient gold
mask blinks its blue eyes at the viewer, while a banner flashes the latest
headlines (which, in the last year have included the rescue of the hostages
from the Japanese embassy and the devastation wrought by El Nino). The
home page also contains links to other sites with information on tourism,
government, education, and business in Peru.

At stake is the ability of Latin Americans and Latin American nations to
represent themselves to the world, rather than being defined primarily
by foreign governments, agencies, and media. Much of this representation
amounts to cybertourism, such as the RCP's photo and music archive. Such
sites do little to address the social problems of Latin America or the
concerns of many Latin Americans about their image abroad. There are examples
of sites that include less superficial efforts at selfrepresentation. One
posting, for example, criticized the United States for the recent "decertification"
of Colombia, a move which disqualified the country from many forms of foreign
aid (LatinoNet 1996). In this case the net allowed Colombians (though it
is unclear who exactly is responsible for the site) to present their perspective
on international relations without intermediaries.' Latinos in the United
States appear to be turning to the Internet for similar purposes of self-representation.
In a report on Hispanics and the Intemet, Hispanic magazine said of the
new medium,

It can be a way for Latinos to reach out, a media tool to tell the world
about ourselves the way we see ourselves. At the same time, we could leave
behind the intermediaries, such as mainstream newspapers and Hollywood,
which some believe have distorted our image (Gonzalez 1996:30).

This is a powerful argument, but the issue of who gets to represent such
groups as "Latinos" and "Colombians" is still one of class, power, and
access to technology. While the Internet may make self-representation possible
for a small elite, it has also made it more difficult for other voices
to be heard.

Another intriguing example of the use of the Web as a tool for self-identification
and advocacy is the Ashininka tribe's homepage (Comunidad Indigena Ashaninka
1998). This Peruvian Amazon group worked with the RCP to create a site
which includes information on the culture as well as discussions of contemporary
problems and threats facing the community, including land disputes with
colonos and the loss of their native language. Ironically, the site is
in Spanish only and is undoubtedly inaccessible to the majority of the
community. It does provide a powerful forum for the Ashaninka (again, the
question of who is representing them remains open) to voice their concerns
and demands.

Another important aspect of the Internet expansion throughout Latin America
is the connection that many in development and planning circles are making
between information technology and "sustainable development." The clearest
example of this thus far is the Sustainable Development Network Program,
coordinated and funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The SDNP facilitates
the distribution and exchange of scientific information on the environment
throughout the world, allowing for greater access to discussion and debate
about issues of sustainable development. The program provides seed money
and equipment to developing countries, sometimes creating the first Internet
link in the country. In the program's 1996 on-line brochure, the UNDP claimed
a variety of early successes:

Already the results are remarkable and the creation of a "culture of information"
is beginning to emerge in more developing nations. For example, the SDNP
has positively impacted land-use planning in Bolivia; educated lobbyists
and government officials making environmental policy in Nicaragua; facilitated
the creation of the African Internet Forum, a consortium of development
partners whose goal is to provide Internet access to the continent; and
saved lives in Pakistan by locating supplies of rare blood types needed
for transfusions (UNDP 1996:2).

Stemming from the emphasis on global cooperation and sharing of scientific
data at the Rio Earth Summit, the SDNP operates on the conviction that
access to information will facilitate greater local participation in planning
and development and lead to more effective and sustainable resource management.
The Colombian "node" of the project, a committee made up of representatives
from government and nongovernmental agencies, echoes this theme in its
own project proposal:

It is evident that inequalities exist in the availability, quality, coherence
and accessibility of information between the so-called developed world
and the developing or underdeveloped worlds...This situation has become
a real threat to the ability of countries to make informed and objective
decisions about the environment. (SDNP Colombia 1996:2).

Many Internet proponents use appeals to "integration" and "sustainable
development" in order to justify the expansion of the Internet. The suggestion
that local peoples will have more say over decisions that affect their
environment is particularly misleading considering the limits of accessibility
which will be elaborated below. The suggestion that the Internet will primarily
benefit environmental protection and promote stewardship is also misleading.
There is no guarantee that widespread distribution of information will
lead to more equitable and responsible resource management. If agencies
lack clear policies about who will access the networks and how the information
is to be used, it could easily have the reverse effect. In examining the
role of information technology on environmental management, we have to
ask, Will information alone help save the environment? Or will it facilitate
new forms of exploitation? How will such information be used and who will
really have access to it? Once network connections are established throughout
the "developing world," how else will this technology be used and what
new forms of inequality and exclusion might arise? While the networks are
made up of NGOs and government agencies, will neighborhood committees,
rural villages, social movements, and native peoples be asked to participate
in the information exchange? These are questions that the UNDP has not

Technologies of Inclusion or Exclusion?

Aside from the proliferation of for-profit and not-for-profit servers forming
within Latin America, "cybernauts" can now access America-On-Line and Compuserve
from several Latin American countries. There are also a number of collaborative
efforts to establish regional "backbones"' throughout Latin America, such
as the Consortium of Andean Networks, which would alleviate the reliance
on the United States to send communications within Latin America. For example,
a message from Colombia to Bolivia still needs to go through the United
States before reaching Bolivia. Newly privatized telecommunications companies
are installing the necessary dedicated phone lines and other technical
support, but most countries still lack the adequate bandwidth for high
speed communications. Despite these developments, access to the Internet
in Latin America remains extremely limited, and reflects existing class,
gender, and regional inequalities.

Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to accessibility is the simple fact
that it still can take up to a year to get a phone line installed in many
countries, meaning that the growth of information technology in the region
is bound to be slow. Some have suggested that Internet connections could
be facilitated in the Third World by circumventing the phone system and
turning to packet radio, which can connect users to a central computer
via short-wave radio. While it may be possible to connect a Yanomami Indian
or an African bushman to the net, however, it is still unlikely. And even
if it were feasible, to whom would they talk, in what language, and with
what equipment? One survey reports that 97 percent of Latin American municipalities
do not have Internet access (Red Nacional de Investigacion 1998).

Another obstacle to the installation of essential Internet infrastructure
is the reliance on foreign funding and technology. While networks such
at the RCP, RedCetcol (Colombia), and Bolivia's Sustainable Development
Network are on their way to self-sufficiency through subscribers' fees,
most networks cannot get off the ground without foreign funding and costly
imported equipment. Once up and running, the networks continue to rely
on connections to U.S. based networks such as the NSF "backbone." LANIC
(Latin American Network Information Center), which is the primary gateway
to library catalogs, databases, and other sources of information on Latin
America, is housed at the University of Texas. In July 1995, the ratio
of Web sites in Latin America to Web sites in North America was still 1
to 160 (Cura 1996:10).

The fact that there are now more Web sites outside of the U.S. than inside
suggests that this imbalance is beginning to change (Internet Society 1996:2).
While the Internet is available throughout Latin America, only a tiny minority
has access to it. A similar technology gap is already visible within the
United States, where, for instance, 52 percent of Latino students use computers
at school, while 62 percent of whites (non-Hispanic) students have access
to computers at school (Cura 1996:10).6 The Internet seems to be creating
a new class division between the "information poor" and the "information
rich:' As computer use grows throughout Latin America, the gap between
those who have access to new technology and those who do not is likely
to be much wider. Even the founders of the RCP acknowledge that in Lima,
Peru, only one household in three has a telephone, and only four percent
of households own a computer (Soriano 1996:3). Membership fees of US$40
and subscriber fees of US$20 per month are beyond the reach of most. The
RCP has installed public terminals (cabinas publicas) in Lima and Cuzco.
The RCP has made a commitment to provide service in smaller cities, such
as Trujillo which got public terminals in early 1998, but users still have
to pay access fees, and the terminals do little to bring the technology
closer to the provinces. Outside of the capital cities, the technology
lag is much greater. There have been some important attempts to bring free
Internet access to low-income areas. The Rede Cidadao, the first "freenet"
in Latin America, provides free Internet access in Recife, Brazil (Marinho
1997). Colnodo, a Colombian network of NGOs, began a program in 1998 with
funding from the Association for Progressive Communications to bring Internet
services and computer equipment to poor neighborhoods in Bogota (Colnodo
1998). Using existing popular organizations, the program provides training
in Windows 95, e-mail, and the Internet. These kinds of programs are encouraging,
yet it is difficult to imagine such small scale efforts (the Colnodo program
currently operates in only three barrios) keeping pace with the spread
of the Internet in middle and upper class areas. Moreover, the young, literate,
and more educated residents of these poor neighborhoods will undoubtedly
benefit disproportionately.

In Colombia, and other countries, where access to education is officially
universal but in practice often requires a political favor, schools in
low-income areas will not see computers any time soon. Meanwhile, students
at international schools, such as the Colegio Franklin D. Roosevelt, are
creating their own home pages and learning the benefits of global networking.
A similar gap exists between public and private universities, making upward
mobility through education even more difficult. In most countries, the
number of users is only in the thousands, though the total number of users
in Brazil has been estimated at a more impressive half-million (Marinho

Despite the impressive growth of the Internet throughout Latin America
and elsewhere in just a few short years, the reality remains that, "for
many people in the world most of Cyberia is a distant Siberia located well
above the global glass ceiling" (Hess 1996:224). Cyberspace operates within
pre-existing "social technologies of exclusion," and access to the net
will continue to be shaped by existing social structures (Hess 1995:224).
The access gap is further exacerbated by the fact that Latin American governments,
in an atmosphere of neoliberal reforms, lack policies aimed at democratizing
access to new technology (Soriano 1996:4). Pressure to commercialize the
Internet in Latin America, and the strength of telephone monopolies in
the region also threaten accessibility. The RCP charges that the national
phone company in Peru - Telefonica - is trying to put private networks
out of business and to monopolize the provision of Internet service. This
would, according to the RCP, raise fees and reduce accessibility in areas
with less potential for profit, namely areas other than the major cities.

One of the most significant barriers to Internet communication throughout
Latin America, as well as other regions, is the American origins and English-language
bias of much of the information technology. Out-of-date mail transport
programs that support only English characters are still a problem and many
systems cannot support multilingual communications, though the growing
use of Unicode offers solutions to some of these problems (see McKenna
1997). Most of the software needed to access the Web, and much of the software
available via the Web, are available only in English (Chaudiron and Cloutier
1996; Bourbonnais and Yergeau 1996). Finally, new technology terms originate
in English, forcing clumsy translations into other languages and such phenomena
as "Cyberspanglish." All of these factors place limits on multilingual
communication via the Internet and favor English speaking and bilingual
users over non-English speakers.

Cyberspanglish is a particularly significant consequence of the English
language origins of the net. It is a clear indication that the growth of
the Internet in Latin America takes place within the context of dependence
on foreign technology. It is also another factor limiting the possibilities
for broad accessibility. For example, English verbs are conjugated into
Spanish without significantly changing the spelling or pronunciation of
the root. Examples include, linkear (to link); cliquear (to click the mouse
- "clique aqui para mks links"); emailear (to e-mail); postear (to post).'
Some view this phenomenon as a creative adaptation to "English speaking
machines." For example, Yolanda Rivas argues that,

Latino users on-line unconsciously have revolted against their language's
old rules and traditions and have created a communal identity for the Information
Age. Thus, Cyberspanglish is not only a sign of the evolution of a language,
but of its people -- those who are bound through computer networks and
who create their own set of codes to communicate efficiently about the
new technology (Rivas 1996:50).

While this ability to creatively adapt to new circumstances should not
be overlooked, Cyberspanglish is also an indication of the growth of new
forms of dependence and exclusion. Cyberspanglish has become a status symbol
of an Internet savvy minority while most Spanish speakers are left out
of the Englishdominant "information revolution."s Despite hopes of bringing
the technology to the streets of Lima and the remote corners of the Amazon,
the actual users of the Internet in Latin America are urban, educated,
young, and male.9

Development and the Internet

Proponents of information technology as a tool for economic growth and
integration encourage developing countries, in particular, to pursue information
technology as a way to "leap frog obstacles to development" and compete
in a global economy. Nagy Hanna, for example, warns of a situation of "information
poverty" in both the public and private sectors in developing countries
and cautions that the technological change is likely to lead to increased
polarization among the industrializing world (1991:45,46). According to
Hanna, the answer is to "develop public policies and infrastructure," with
the assistance of aid agencies such as the World Bank, to try to narrow
this technology gap (1991:45). Advocates of the Internet in Latin America
echo this sentiment. For example, Soriano of the RCP argues that a national
network will facilitate "national integration" and help Peru overcome the
political centralization that has prevented broad participation in development
policies (1996:2). Others argue that computer-mediated communication can
help incorporate more meaningful "feedback and citizen participation in
development activities" (Fervoy et al.1996:1).

Even those who believe that technological changes exacerbate global inequalities
seem to agree that aggressive growth of technological infrastructure in
developing countries is the best way to confront the problem. The current
situation, these authors argue, is untenable. The overwhelming majority
of research and development is done in Europe, the United States, and Japan
(Smith 1993:188). As a result, "developing countries" are dependent on
foreign countries and firms for technological innovations, and must import
expensive machines and pay high licensing fees. According to Smith, this
perpetuates global inequalities, and also ensures that new technology will
suit the needs of the wealthy and powerful (1993:189). In order to break
free of this dependence on foreign technological expertise and development
resources, Smith argues that Third World countries need to focus on endogenous
research and development in order to create possibilities for more autonomous
technological change. Similarly, Castells and Laserna (1989) advocate technological
modernization and social reform to counteract the "new dependency" created
by technological change. Escobar (1995:416) finds such solutions unsatisfactory
because, "it amounts to the continuation of the post-World-War-II policies
of 'development' which have had for the most part deleterious effects on
the economies and cultures of the Third World."

Sagasti's answer to "the fractured global order" is "sustainable human
development." Sustainable human development, according to Sagasti, would
ensure "equal access to development opportunities," including technology
(1995:605). Despite acknowledging the deep divisions in the global economy
marked by technological inequality and dependence, Sagasti argues that
science and technology must be central to a vision of sustainable human
development. "In the last analysis," he argues, "without science and technology
there can be no belief in and commitment to the future, no means for dealing
with the multiple fractures of the emerging global order" (1995:607). In
order to make crucial development decisions, to raise productivity, to
compete at the international level, and to achieve greater human development,
all countries must strive for scientific and technological competence.

Sagasti's strategy leaves many unsettling questions. He himself points
to many of the inequalities that will likely be exacerbated by the spread
of information technology and other technologies. Sagasti advocates the
mobilization of science and technology to confront the growing inequalities
between nations, between the worlds richest and poorest, and between men
and women. Yet those gaps are already growing, as only a small minority
are able to take advantages of new technologies. Sagasti reports that "women
comprise two-thirds of the world's illiterate population" and yet he does
not explain how technology can narrow this gap (1995:597). Technology alone
cannot solve such problems, and indeed without the existence of other strategies
it will likely exacerbate them. Without widespread literacy programs, women's
education, greater economic opportunities for women, and policies to make
technology accessible and relevant to women, how can information technology
do anything but increase this gap?

A more positive view of the role of information technology in development
will not be possible without also confronting the growing commercialization
of the Internet, and the shift away from its origins in research and education.
Networks such as the Red Tecnologica Nacional in Mexico and the RCP in
Peru are too costly for the vast majority of Latin Americans, leaving commercial
interests and organizations as the primary consumers of information. How
can the Internet foster greater participation in development when most
citizens do not own a phone much less a computer?

Democracy: Empowerment and `Virtual Resistance'?

The claims by Internet proponents that information technology is rapidly
creating new forms of democracy has special relevance in Latin America,
especially considering the current period of democratization and decentralization.
Will the Internet allow for broader participation in political and developmental
processes? Will opposition parties, indigenous groups and social movements
share information that cannot be controlled by governments or by a few
media organizations? Will a new form of struggle, "virtual resistance,"
emerge that can link the causes of oppressed people across vast regions?
Can the transformative potential of the Internet be realized through progressive
public policy decisions?

The use of the Internet as a tool for resistance has created a troubling
paradox: The Internet affords the possibility to circumvent traditional
media and government censorship, to organize across borders, and to voice
political opposition in anonymity. Yet for the victims of repression to
benefit from this technology, they must typically rely on outsiders (in
other countries or in capital cities) who have access to computers in order
to make their resistance heard. This paradox results in romanticization
on the part of the well-meaning intermediaries who post letters of protest
or rebel communiques. It also indicates a lack of meaningful interaction
between oppressed groups and their allies in technology. This can be demonstrated
by looking at a few examples of the possibilities and limitations for "virtual
resistance" in Latin America.

We can already see indications of the Internet's potential to change the
nature of political participation in Latin America. Those with access to
the Web, for example, no longer have to rely on a few news sources, often
dominated by traditional parties, for information. Opposition parties are
taking advantage of the Web to voice their agendas, and the new medium
may help them circumvent the exclusions that traditional parties have previously
been able to maintain. Indigenous groups have also used electronic mail
and Web sites to voice their concerns about environmental degradation and
multinational corporations.

A letter from leaders of the Huaorani Indians in Ecuador to the CEO of
the Maxis Energy Corporation is one intriguing example. An environmental
group, Ecological Enterprises, posted the letter on its gopher and urged
people to write to the company to voice their support for the Indians'
rights. The letter itself stated: "We do not want foreign companies to
build roads, nor to damage the ecology-ecocultural [sic]...We are writing
this letter to you and also to the world. Our position will not change,
no one can represent us, nor speak in the name of the Huaoranis without
authorization" (Huamani Coba and Nihua 1992). Thus, the Internet can be
a powerful tool which can bring global attention to local disputes, and
pressure corporations to acknowledge native land claims. In this case,
the letter campaign suggests that the Huaoranis chose to circumvent the
Ecuadoran government, perhaps because they believed the government would
support the corporation. On the other hand, this example raises a number
of complex questions: Did the Huaoranis intend for their letter to end
up on the Internet? Who translated the letter? Are people with access to
the Internet presuming to speak for others? If the Huaoranis cannot participate
in the electronic exchanges regarding their land claims, their movement
could easily become coopted or dominated by foreigners, however well-intentioned,
and this is something that the Huaoranis themselves explicitly state that
they do not want.

Supporters of the U'wa people of Colombia, whose land and environment has
been threatened by oil exploration by Occidental and Shell oil companies,
have created dozens of Websites to denounce the policies of both the Colombian
government and the multinationals. The U'wa gained national attention and
the assistance of environmental organizations around the world, when their
leaders threatened to commit suicide in protest over the proposed drilling.
None of the Websites were created by the U'wa or their leaders, though
many of them reproduce statements released by U'wa leaders. It is a powerful
example of the power of the Internet as a tool for resistance, even for
a small and previously little-known community in the face of massively
powerful corporations, even if the struggle is being carried out by outsiders
in the name of the U'wa (see, for examples, Rainforest Action Network 1998;
U'wa InfoCenter 1997). Probably the most impressive use of the Internet
for creating networks of resistance and support is Abya Yala Net, a project
that supports information sharing among indigenous peoples throughout the

The Internet, to the extent that it is accessible to such groups, also
affords the possibilities to connect with other indigenous groups, from
Tierra del Fuego to the Yukon, and present a united front on issues of
broad concern to native peoples, such as land rights and political autonomy.
Social movements can build broad support, lobby governments, and raise
funds via the Internet, as well as share strategies and information with
other activists. NGO's have been particularly successful in networking
across borders, aided by such organizations as the Association for Progressive
Communication and the Website NGO Caf6. While disparaging the growing commercialization
of the Internet, one activist argues that "the Internet is a prime space
for civil society's organizations to build social strategies and practices"
(Afonso 1997). BECCNET, a network which links NGOs on both sides of the
Mexican-American border, is one example of such networking efforts. Other
transnational efforts include NativeWeb, with sources on indigenous peoples
throughout the Americas. The critical question here, as Escobar notes,
is "Will most social groups in the Third World be in a position even to
know about the possibilities afforded by the new technologies?" (1994:220).
In Latin America, visions of laptops and packet radios in the Amazon notwithstanding,
the answer is still no.'o

There is considerable evidence that the Web has become a tool for resistance
to state domination, racism, and other forms of discrimination. Scholars
in the U.S., for example, have identified activists who use the Internet
to "defend and empower minority groups" and to denounce racism (Beckles
1996). The most widely recognized example of such "virtual resistance"
in Latin America is the host of newsgroups and Web sites dedicated to the
Chiapas rebellion in southern Mexico. Chiapas rebels have a wide network
of "virtual supporters" who exchange information on the conflict, circulate
Subcomandante Marcos's communiques, and lobby the Mexican government to
respond to the rebel demands.

The use of computer communication via the Internet has been especially
important to the Zapatistas, activists argue, given the limited mass media
coverage of the conflict (Cleaver 1996:1). Subscribers to the Mexpaz and
Chiapas95 newsgroups receive regular bulletins on the movement and supporters
from around the world can mobilize letter, phone and fax campaigns and
respond quickly to new developments. A Dominican priest in Mexico posts
Mexpaz, while activists at the University of Texas post Chiapas95. Updates
on the situation in Chiapas can also be found on PeaceNet through the Institute
for Global Communications. These and other on-line groups organized quickly
after the 1994 rebellion and continue to provide a wealth of information
on the movement. There are also a number of Italian Websites in support
of the Chiapas rebels.nI

Without dismissing the genuine possibilities for anonymous or "hidden"
resistance, I argue that much of the "virtual resistance" on the net is
highly romanticized and has very little direct connection to the actual
victims of repression and inequality.'2 Internet supporters of the Chiapas
rebels, for example, paint an equally romantic picture of themselves (as
free-wheeling hackers fighting to liberate cyberspace from corporate and
government domination) as they do of the Zapatistas (as simple peasants
forced into a heroic struggle for land and dignity):

[J]ust as the campesinos of Morelia under the leadership of Zapata cut
barbed wire to liberate the land in 1910, electronic hackers have chopped
down electronic barriers and liberated information, creating a pirate underground
of free activity constantly slipping beyond corporate and state control.
So, too, have the colonists of cyberspace defended their own spaces against
monopolization in other ways, including public campaigns both legal and
political against big business and state control (Cleaver 1996:3).

Cleaver also cites the importance of the Internet for forging international
coalitions against NAFTA. The importance of this new form of struggle is
that it has created "a new organizational form - a multiplicity of rhizomatically
linked autonomous groups -- connecting all kinds of struggles throughout
North America that have previously been disconnected and separate" (Cleaver
1994:2). The ability to participate fully in these "cyber-struggles," however,
still relies on access to technology. Given the inequality of such access,
as discussed above, these electronic struggles often result in the presumption
of speaking for others.

The romanticization of the EZLN's struggle via the Internet is most notable
with the "Zapnet" Web site ("The Net of Autonomy and Liberation").'2 The
site, created by students and faculty at the University of Texas, triumphantly
announces that, "The revolution will be digitized!" and "Cyberwar is coming!"'3
One wonders how, when, and if the people of Chiapas will have the opportunity
to participate in this "electronic struggle."

The UT activists clearly associate the relative anonymity of the Internet
(i.e., by calling the site a "Temporary Autonomous Zone" for exchanging
information and strategies) with the masked identity of the EZLN rebels.
Even if the people of Chiapas could view this flashy Website or participate
in the various newsgroups and on-line forums dedicated to the movement,
they could hardly be imagined to play an equal role in the "cyberwar,"
given the language barriers, the technology gap, and the dependence on
foreign networks. Through the Internet, U.S. supporters imagine the armed
rebels of Chiapas draped, "in the `bandera nacional' and the legacy of
Emiliano Zapata." Lacking an equal and truly interactive communication,
however, these "virtual warriors" have merely managed to reproduce the
familiar stereotypes and exoticized images of the Mexican bandido, and
then projected that image onto themselves as "cyber rebels."

The possibilities of autonomous expression and resistance are real and
should be nurtured, but claims of limitless freedom are premature. To be
sure, the contribution that Internet users have made to the Chiapas movement,
primarily by confounding the Mexican government's attempts to control information
on the conflict, are significant. Yet, commercial and military interests
continue to dominate the development of information technology, and in
Latin America as elsewhere, the Internet is likely to be disproportionately
beneficial to those who will have access to it: young, educated urban dwellers,
large corporations, governments, private organizations, and universities.'4
It is dangerous to assume that the relative anonymity afforded by the Internet
is limitless, or that subaltern groups will be the primary beneficiaries
of this "autonomous" medium. New technologies also afford governments and
militaries new powers of surveillance. There is every reason to believe
that new forms of control will evolve along with new possibilities for
autonomous communication. The possibilities for surveillance and control
are especially great in countries where telecommunications are under the
exclusive control of the government or private monopolies. In Guatemala,
where the military has played a large role in the state-run telephone company,
even privatization has not quelled fears that phone lines are tapped (Belejack

The advent of radio and television (and cable and public access television
in particular) brought similar hopes of empowerment and broad social change.
Scholars caution that the Internet is not so different from previous communications,
and that with the growth of government regulation and business interests,
the Internet is likely to prove disappointing to those who envision cyberspace
as a boundless frontier. Stevenson (1996), for example, traces how amateur
radio, inexpensive and easily accessible, came to be dominated by commercial
interests and government regulation by the 1930s. Stevenson cautions that
the trend toward censorship and commercialization is already apparent in
information technology:

To say that the "Internet regards censorship as a hardware problem and
just works around it," an oft-repeated sentence over the past few months,
ignores the reality of the Scientology harassment and lawsuits, the investigation
of CompuServe by the FBI, and the general chilling effect of the Communications
Decency Act (1996:4).'5

In Latin America, where free speech has fewer protections, censorship is
likely to be an even larger issue. It is clear that the Internet will not
bring about broad participation and autonomous expression without other

The Future of the Internet in Latin America

Policy makers in Latin America as well as those in development agencies
in the U.S. and elsewhere face a difficult dilemma: Should Latin American
countries pursue an aggressive approach to technological change, especially
in terms of information technology, in an effort to "catch up" and "keep
up" with technological developments elsewhere and to "leap frog" development
obstacles? The consensus seems to be that technological change is critical
to economic growth as well as democratization. Yet early evidence suggests
that such change is leading to the kind of "uneven development" which characterized
previous development efforts, from the Green Revolution to Import Substitution.
To accept uncritically the notion that the Internet is the next and only
frontier of development in Latin America would be to risk repeating previous

Based on the preliminary issues raised in this article, I argue that any
plan for technological change must proceed from a commitment to endogenous
research and development and broad accessibility. Research conducted in
Latin America will not only foster a sense of "technological self-esteem"
that many argue is lacking in the region (see Escobar 1994), but will also
lead to more appropriate applications that respond to local needs rather
than foreign models. Endogenous research will also promote the development
of bilingual and multilingual communications and resources that is so critical
to making the technology more broadly accessible. Access to the Internet
might be enhanced by free community networks and terminals in community
centers, schools, and churches.

While it is important to pursue the possible social benefits of technology
change, it is equally important to resist the notion that everything of
social value, cultural relevance, and economic utility can be channeled
through the Internet. While new technology may provide access to uncensored
information, this should not distract us from more significant indicators
of democracy and democratization, such as freedom of association, political
pluralism, judicial reforms, and the tolerance of social movements. As
others have argued, technology is not neutral: The Internet may allow for
uncensored exchanges (as in Zapnet's assertion that "information wants
to be free") but it may just as easily create new possibilities for surveillance
and sabotage (as in the CIA's current development of "information warfare").
The Internet is far from being the free and open exchange that the advertisers
and other enthusiasts claim. In terms of both content and accessibility
it reflects the same inequalities of race, class, gender, and the global
order which exist in the "real world."

Technology alone cannot transform social relations, cannot solve our problems
of environmental degradation, authoritarianism, and inequality. Indeed,
it seems just as likely of exacerbating them. The paradox of the Internet
is that it creates opportunities for global resistance to power at the
same time that it hastens economic and political globalization and exclusion.
A street vendor's life chances cannot be transformed by new technology
if she has no license to operate, no formal education, no telephone in
her home, few services in her neighborhood; the expansion of the Internet
in the `fractured global order' is making us more integrated, but it is
doing little to narrow existing inequalities.




'For example, Network MCI's recent TV ad exclaims that, "There are no races.
There are no genders. There is no age. There are no infirmities. There
are only minds. Utopia?" someone asks. "No, the Internet."

2The best examples of development schemes based on the ideology of integration
are the World Bank efforts at Integrated Rural Development and Integrated
Urban Development of the early 1970s.

3Adams (1996:4) argues that marketing via the Web will become increasingly
dominated by large companies because of the high cost of building and maintaining
effective Web sites.

`This points to one of the intriguing problems of the World Wide Web, especially
for those who wish to conduct a critical "Web-astext" reading. While the
Internet may allow for underprivileged groups to voice their resistance
in an autonomous, and therefore safer, form, it also allows people to publish
documents as "Colombians" or "Latinos," thereby claiming to speak for many
while they may only be voicing the perspective of a few. Many of the sites
linked by LatinoNet are unattributable to a specific source, and therefore
difficult to evaluate in terms of interests, class perspective, and so

'A "backbone" is a high speed data highway that allows networks to connect
to other networks around the world.

6Similar evidence is provided by a study at the Tomas Rivera Center, cited
in the March 1996 issue of Hispanic magazine, which reported that, "Only
18 percent of middle-income Hispanics had computers compared with 27.4
percent of non-Hispanics" (p. 30).

'For a list of Internet terms in several languages, see World Wide Language
Institute 1996.

8The consequences for native languages are even more troubling. This was
recently demonstrated by the RCP's attempt to provide some of its on-line
information in Quechua. What resulted was a confusing

mix of Quechua, Spanish, and English vocabulary and syntax. For example,
one icon had the caption, "Clickta kaypi iit'iy Peru Home Pageman Kutinay
Kipah" ("Click here to return to Peru Home Page").

9Belejack (1996:15) cites a study of the RCP which found that the typical
RCP individual member is "male, university-educated, 20 years old and resides
in the high-income district of Lima."

10Many authors have stressed the importance of social movements as indicators
of broadening political participation and informal democracy.

"For a more complete list of Chiapas-related sites, see Cleaver's "Zapatistas
in Cyberspace" (1997).

2I am indebted to Rae Anne Lafrenz, a student in my Latin American Cultures
course (fall 1996), whose excellent paper on Zapnet alerted me to the Web

'3This call to arms was inspired by a Rand Corporation article of the same
name (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1993). "Age is another important factor in
the access gap. Again, this is already apparent in the Unites States, where,
"Six percent of Americans who are 18 to 29 years old access the World Wide
Web, compared to only one percent of those over 50" (Adams 1996:1). "EOn
censorship and the Internet, see also Adams 1996:6.

Margaret Everett is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Portland State
University. The author wishes to thank Ray Sadler, Shawn Smallman, and
the anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of the article.
The author also wishes to thank Marc Edelman and Gary Elbow for their insights
and suggestions on sources as this project began.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

=============================== End of Document ================================

Margaret Everett
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
Portland State University
Portland, OR 97207-0751
(503) 725-3319




13 de agosto de 1998

Hotel El Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador


Los Infocentros Comunitarios, conocidos también como "Telecentros" o "Cabinas Públicas", han surgido durante los últimos años en muchos países en desarrollo como alternativa de acceso compartido a la comunicación y servicios de información, sobre todo en municipios y áreas rurales. En la práctica, demuestran cómo el acceso oportuno a información relevante para la actividad productiva y social puede reducir los costos de transacción, mejorar la competitividad, fortalecer las comunicaciones con el mundo externo, y elevar los niveles de educación y bienestar de la población local.

El Infocentro es un centro local de conectividad que proporciona acceso a servicios de información, diversos tipos de comunicaciones, educación y capacitación a distancia, insumos y mercados, fortalecimiento empresarial, etc. Los servicios más comunes que ofrece un telecentro son: teléfono, fax, correo electrónico, acceso al Internet y fotocopiado. También puede llegar a ofrecer capacitación, espacio para reuniones, videoconferencias, y la producción de contenidos de información para vender.

El Infocentro nace en base a una demanda identificada de información y servicios. Algunos ejemplos de necesidades locales son:

* mercados y proveedores nacionales e internacionales para productores locales
* capacitación puntual e información sobre técnicas de producción
* educación a distancia a todo nivel
* información médica, apoyo en diagnósticos y recetas médicas
* información sobre tecnologías apropiadas
* experiencias de gestión ambiental, administración local
* comunicación con emigrantes para fines personales y productivos

El taller del 13 de agosto pretende explorar la posibilidad de crear Infocentros en El Salvador en base a la demanda local y la expertise y experiencia de otros países similares.

Ponentes Invitados:

José Soriano, Red Científica Peruana

La Red Científica Peruana representa la experiencia más exitosa de América Latina en cuanto al uso de la conectividad para el desarrollo económico y social. Con centenares de "Cabinas Públicas Internet" en operación a través del territorio peruano, la RCP ha logrado convertir el Internet y la comunicación electrónica en herramientas de información accesibles a las mayorías. Las Cabinas RCP combinan la conectividad del Internet, teléfono, fax, correo electrónico, radio comunitaria y víperes con la producción de contenidos electrónicos relevantes para las necesidades de desarrollo de los peruanos. El Ing. Soriano transmitirá su experiencia como fundador y gerente de RCP.

Scott Robinson, Red de Información Rural de México

La Red de Información Rural, junto con el Sistema de Información Rural para el Desarrollo Sostenible, ha instalado una serie de infocentros en las comunidades rurales del sur del Distrito Federal y en el estado de Michoacán. El enfoque de los infocentros ha sido de proporcionar acceso a información oportuna y relevante a la población rural mexicana, y a la vez fomentar mayor transparencia gubernamental al promover la producción de estos contenidos por parte de todas las dependencias del Estado federal y local. El Dr. Robinson transmitirá su experiencia en la creación de alianzas locales, la capacitación de agricultores y la promoción de un papel activo por parte de las instancias de gobierno.

Introducción: Conectándonos al Futuro y la Sociedad de Aprendizaje

Presentaciones Audiovisuales sobre Infocentros en Perú y México
Presentaciones breves sobre el aprendizaje en El Salvador
Preguntas y respuestas

Problemáticas Específicas en la Construcción de Infocentros:

* Conectividad
* Contenidos
* Capacitación
* Sostenibilidad Económica

Mesas de Trabajo para profundizar en los distintos temas


Dirigido a:

* Gobiernos locales; representantes de ministerios de gobierno; empresarios, productores y sus asociaciones; artistas; representaciones locales de ONGs nacionales e internacionales de desarrollo; estudiantes y maestros.
* Profesionales de la información, informática y telemática.
* Proveedores de equipo de computación y servicios de conectividad.
* Representantes a nivel nacional de gobierno, gremios de la empresa privada, ONGs nacionales e internacionales.

Cabinas para navegar Internet, ¡como las telefónicas!

* La mayor operadora de Internet en Perú negocia una alianza con la italiana
* Telecom y un grupo de bancos, para expandirse por Latinoamérica con una inversión de $440 millones, dijo un ejecutivo.

Marco Aquino
“Podría formarse una alianza tripartita en la cual nosotros no perderíamos la gerencia”, señaló José Soriano, gerente general de la Red Científica Peruana (RCP), una firma emergente que tiene poco más de la mitad del mercado de correo electrónico de Perú.

Indicó que la alianza con la italiana Telecom y el consorcio de bancos europeos WorldTel está al “borde de una decisión” y se negocia la participación del grupo.

Precisó que Telecom planea invertir en la alianza estratégica unos $400 millones, en menos de dos años, para interconectar la región con fibra óptica e instalar “cabinas públicas” a escala nacional y latinoamericana.

Las cabinas permitirán “navegar por Internet” a menor precio a personas que no tienen en su casa una computadora debido a su alto costo en la región.

En Perú ya operan 250 “cabinas públicas”, cada una con 20 computadoras, donde se puede acceder a Internet hasta por $15 al mes frente a los $19 promedio que paga un usuario con ordenador en su casa.

“Del monto total, para cubrir Perú con fibra óptica Telecom invertiría $70 millones”, agregó Soriano.
Afirmó que WorldTel, por su parte, tiene planeado invertir $43 millones en unos 18 meses para expandir las “cabinas públicas” de correo electrónico por todo este país.

“Además WorldTel quiere exportar como negocio este modelo peruano a América Latina y al mundo”, indicó.

Aseguró que si se forma la alianza, la nueva compañía “seguramente tendrá que cotizar no sólo en el mercado local sino también en la bolsa de Nueva York”.

Soriano señaló que actualmente la red local ha exportado el modelo de cabinas públicas a El Salvador, donde el gobierno de ese país la ejecuta con una inversión de $12 millones.
“También tenemos pedidos de los gobiernos de Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, la India y dos países africanos para ejecutar el proyecto de cabinas", dijo.

Indicó que el espíritu del proyecto tiene que ver con la realidad de Latinoamérica, con un escaso número de líneas telefónicas y computadoras frente a países desarrollados.

Por ejemplo, en Perú hay 1,9 millones de teléfonos instalados y apenas 450.000 computadoras para 25 millones de personas, mientras en Estados Unidos el 97 por ciento de su población tiene teléfono y el 43 por ciento una computadora en su casa, manifestó el ejecutivo.