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Venezuela: Keeping the Internet as a Priority

When the Venezuelan government emitted Decree No. 6649, it raised red flags within the online community concerned about the possible effects to education, research and other fields important to development. The decree seeks to eliminate “luxuries” or “superfluous expenses” among the public expenditure, among which includes the Internet.

As a result, the online campaign Internet Prioritaria [es] was created with the opinion that Internet is a basic need. According to the group's statement, “the decree violates the public policies of the Venezuelan state, since Internet was declared a priority in Decree No. 825 and the State has made efforts to use Internet for the benefit of efficiency in public administration, health and education.”

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In addition, this community’s concern is to maintain research and educational programs that is made possible because of the Internet, “we must guarantee that the sustainability of university projects based on information technologies is not affected by budget cuts.”

Among their objectives, Internet Prioritaria wants to maintain the status of Internet use as a priority, to develop technologies associated with Internet use that could be helpful in the public sector, and to support research on information technologies. Also, the group proposes to place the use of these technologies in the discussion around Venezuelan media so there could be a deep dialogue on the weight of Internet in development, as well as the importance of digital literacy.

The campaign has been active using Facebook [es] and Twitter. In its first 45 hours, the group reached 205 members. In Twitter, the tag #internetlujo [es] (internet luxury) is used to continue the campaign. Numerous blogs and other digital spaces have also joined in. The discussion in the Venezuela blogosphere could be seen from two different points of view, since while some argue that this new decree is an attempt to curtail freedom of speech, others consider this kind of campaign as trying to raise an alarm where there is no urgency. Here are some examples:

In her blog Signos Bajo la Luna [es], Holanda Castro makes a list of some of the bloggers that have published about the subject and also writes about the reason behind the decree, in her opinion:

Es paradójico. Mi país se erigió como paladín del Software Libre y de la Apropiación Social de Internet, hace años, antes de que otros lo hicieran. Con un revolucionario Decreto presidencial -no por el partido, sino por lo que realmente significa la palabra revolución- decía en el 2000 que era (¿y acaso no lo es ahora?) prioritaria la sistematización de procesos de la administración pública a través de Internet.

Luego de pasar años en la clandestinidad, soñando con un “otro mundo es posible”, al llegar al poder l@s revolucionari@s se dan cuenta de que eso del poder no es como parece. Porque el poder no se comparte, o dejaría de serlo, no se cuestiona, o se debilitaría, no se discute, porque es infalible. Eso, hasta los surrealistas lo saben y sufrieron.

It’s paradoxical. My country emerged as a hero of open-source software hero and of social ownership of Internet years before some others did. With a very revolutionary presidential decree –and not because of the political party, but because it was really revolutionary- it was said in the year 2000 that systematization process in the public sector through Internet was a priority (…and isn’t it still?)

After years in secrecy, dreaming about how “a new world was possible” the revolutionaries came to power, and thus, they realized that this thing called power is not as it seems. Power is not to be shared or it would stop being power. Power is not questioned, because it would become weak; it shouldn’t be discussed, because it is infallible. Even the surrealists knew that, and they suffered from it.

Francisco Palm, on the other hand, discusses from other point of view and thinks that there is a misinterpretation of the new decree [es]:

El problema es la lectura tendenciosa del decreto 6649, porque poco les falta para decir que el gobierno está prohibiendo Internet, de hecho el correo que se está difundiendo tiene por Asunto “Limitan Internet en las Universidades”.

En el decreto 6649 se indica con claridad que la finalidad es “optimizar la racionalización del gasto en el sector público”. Yo creo entender que la palabra “optimización” (ya que doy clases de técnicas de optimización) no quiere decir que se prohíba o se elimine, sino que incluso en el caso de una actividad muy razonable y necesaria se requiere depurar la implementación de dicha actividad “haciendo el mejor uso de recursos escasos”.

La “campaña” debería estar dada en términos de INFORMAR y establecer claramente que es lo que eventualmente puede hacer de Internet un gasto suntuario, hablar de como la organización social puede ayudar a generar propuestas más “solidarias” (en el sentido económico que le damos en Venezuela).

The main problem is this tendentious reading of the decree 6649. They’re almost saying that the government is banning the Internet. In fact, the email that has been circling around has as subject “Limiting Internet in the Universities”

The decree says clearly that the main goal is to “optimize savings in the public sector.” I believe I understand the meaning of this word since I teach different techniques to optimize. This does not mean that (the Internet) is going to be banned or eliminated; it means that it is necessary to purge this activity, even if it is a very reasonable and necessary activity, “using limited resources in a better way.”

The campaign should be devoted to INFORM and to point out clearly what are the elements that could make Internet a sumptuary expense. They should talk about how social organization can help to generate more “solidarity” in their proposals (in the economic sense we give to this word in Venezuela).

The idea of cyber-activism is something the blog Enigmas Press [es] believes is essentialfor public debate on such an issue:

Hay momentos que nos involucran a todos. No importa que partido tomar. Y es aquí donde entra el activismo-blog, ya sea un blog de cocina, de deportes, de chistes.

There are moments that involve us all. It doesn’t matter the side you want to take. It is here where blogs and activism enters; whether it is as a blog on cooking, on sports or jokes.

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