sábado, 25 de noviembre de 2006

Cyberculture Comes to the Americas


> [Image]
> Cyberculture Comes to the Americas
> by Barbara Belejack
> December, 1996
> 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 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 a 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 markets.
> 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 century."
> 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 Peruvian 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 the November/December, 1996
> issue of NACLA Report on the Americas. Contact the author via email:
> 102334.201@CompuServe.COM; for subscription information to NACLA, send
> a message to nacla@igc.apc.org
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