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Software Libre in Venezuela

venezuelalinux.jpgBrazil has some local competition.

We've long celebrated Brazil's efforts to encourage the proliferation of Linux and other free/libre/open source software (FLOSS) as a tool for leapfrog technology development. Brazil has come up with some really interesting ideas, but the results have been mixed. Nonetheless, the concept of "software libre" as a catalyst for economic growth outside of the "Washington Consensus" has definitely taken root -- but it's one of Brazil's neighbors that may well take the concept even further than Lula and company could have dared hope.

This month, Venezuela's open source law goes into effect. This law mandates a two year transition to open source software in all public agencies. Jeff Zucker at the O'Reilly Radar blog has the details:

This massive undertaking will involve the training of hundreds of thousands of government employees and migrating of the software that runs not only their public agencies, but also their oil industry (which accounts for 70% of the country's economy and is one of the largest business enterprise in Latin America). [...]
Venezuala is going to need lots of open source hackers to help "train the trainers" for their migration process. The idea of open software as accumulative knowledge is really emphasized there. Reusability is a key concept.
A representative of the national office of Intellectual Property remarked, not entirely in jest, that the name of his department should be changed to "Intellectual Prosperity" to shift the focus from ownership of ideas to the accumulation and reuse of ideas for the public benefit.

Brazil tried this first, but got mired in resistent legislators and pressure from Microsoft. Venezuela already has a much more antagonistic relationship with the United States than does Brazil, so whatever arm-twisting BillG might bring to bear will pale against attempted coups.

This leads to an important point: as much as Brazil's Lula is occasionally blasted by conservatives as being (for example) too friendly to Castro, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is a whole order of magnitude larger bogeyman. The Chavez government is known for cracking down on dissent -- but also came to power in elections (and re-elections) considered to have been free and fair.

The political element becomes even more pronounced in the context of a strike by bureaucrats in the state-owned oil company in 2002, during which some of the company's computer systems were sabotaged -- computer systems outsourced to an American company, SAIC. Andrew Leonard, at Salon's How the World Works, has more details. In short: the dependence upon proprietary software requiring foreign expertise to manage was a major catalyst for Venzuela's move to open source.

It appears that Venezuela under Chavez may be able to pull off some of the plans initiated (but not yet completed) by Lula in Brazil. It will certainly be an interesting case study in the utility of Linux and other FLOSS as tools for escaping the Washington Consensus-controlled part of the global economic system.

Comments (2)

There are actually divisions in the FOSS movement of Venezuala - related to whether a group is pro or anti Chavez. Software written or supported by one group is unlikely to be supported by the other.

Based upon this policy, some opposition supporters has been asking Venezuelan government to use open source software for elections, but the electoral agency doesnÂ’t even bother to consider such request.

Hope, it changes for presidential elections. Then, we may not get 75% abstention.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 16, 2006 2:24 PM.

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