Cyberculture Comes to the Americas
by Barbara Belejack
This article was first published in 1996.
A photo on Flickr
PHOTO GALLERY: Globalize Yourself
Kunanqa rihsisunchisya Runa Simita, inkakunah rimayninta, Kay musuhanpi, Supercarretera de Informacion, Internetpa Kancharyninwan.
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 Bolivar'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.