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Guatemala: Indigenous Village Declares Internet Access a Human Right

In the indigenous village of Santiago Atitlan, Internet access has been declared “a human right” by both inhabitants and local authorities. Authorities are also implementing a plan to provide free community Wi-Fi to the entire population so that everyone can benefit from it and exercise their rights.

The concepts of community and sharing are entrenched in the daily life of indigenous people in Guatemala. Common spaces, open doors, collaboration and sharing are the main characteristics of these communities, especially among small linguistic communities such as the Mayan Tzutuhil indigenous group in the Highlands of Guatemala. As cultures evolve and adapt to new discoveries in science and technology, indigenous cultures are embracing new technologies and adapting their use to accord with traditional principles. Such is the case with Internet access.

Picture by Yo respondo used with permission.

The youth of Santiago Atitlan pro-actively use digital tools. Their programme I respond! and you? (Yo Respondo, y Tu?) [es] is broadcast via the Internet and local cable TV and promoted throughout social networks. There they host dialogues discussing local problems, such as recycling and other ecological issues.

The group dedicated a show to the community Wi-Fi project once the first phase was ready. During the episode, called “Internet… my human right”, Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, was invited to launch the community Wi-Fi. The Special Rapporteur congratulated the community and celebrated that Internet access is recognized as an effective tool to exercise and enforce other rights.

As described by Radio Ati, the community Wi-Fi project is a result of the joint efforts [es] of the population and local authorities:

“Tomás Chiviliú, alcalde municipal, indica que uno de sus propósitos es transparentar la información municipal, por lo que se ha desarrollado una red que permite la circulación informativa entre las distintas dependencias ediles. Este proceso llevó a instalar el equipo necesario para ofrecer Internet a los vecinos. Agrega que “es importante garantizar el acceso a la información en general, beneficiando no solo a la juventud sino también a la empresa local y al turismo”.

“Tomás Chiviliú, mayor of the city, points out that one of his purposes is to bring transparency to local public information, therefore they developed a network allowing the free circulation of information between different local government offices. That led them to install all the necessary equipment and offer Internet to the entire neighbourhood. He added that it is important to guarantee access to information in general, because it is of benefit to the youth, local companies and tourism”.

Picture by Juan Damian used with permission.

While Santiago Atitlan is one of the poorest villages in Central America, it is leading the way by providing communal Internet access. However, the network is password protected: the password, “I am Atitlan” (Yo soy Atitlan), seeks to strengthen local identity and remind its users that the people accessing the network are located next to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Atitlan Lake. The Municipality of Santiago Atitlan is also very active on Facebook [es] and Twitter with the account @atitlanmuni [es].

Picture by Juan Damian used with permission.

Santiago Atitlan and its people are teaching the rest of us three important lessons: Internet is a rights enabler, since it makes the exercise of other rights possible, such as, the right to know; community Wi-Fi, as described by the mayor, has many benefits; and finally, new technologies are of extreme importance for indigenous cultures, as they enable indigenous youth to share their millenarian cultures with the world, spread their ideas, and invent a future without borders.  The future is now, and you can live it in the village of Santiago Atitlan.

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