Links are to Spanish-language pages except where indicated.
“Open development: the Future of the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean” was the theme of a forum held in Montevideo, Uruguay, April 2-3, 2013, as a lead-up to the 4th annual ministerial conference addressing the issue. Attended by both government officials and experts from throughout the region, the conference was organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Spanish acronym CEPAL) and the government of Uruguay via the country's national agency for e-government and the information society (AGESIC in Spanish). The goal of the meeting was to examine regional gains and challenges with regard to the information society as outlined in the eLAC2015 action plan, which aims to:
…coadyuvar a la universalización de la banda ancha, alcanzar un gobierno electrónico transaccional y participativo, lograr el acceso de todas las MIPYME a las TIC, promover la integración regional a través de las TIC, y universalizar el acceso y la expansión de las nuevas tecnologías para la salud y la educación.
…facilitate universal broadband, attain transactional and participatory e-government, provide universal access to ICT for all micro-enterprises and SMBs, promote regional integration through ICT, and ensure universal access and growth of new technologies in the fields of health and education.
As part of the agenda, beyond the formalities and protocol, participants discussed topics such as cyber security, open government, and the role of new technologies in innovation. The event was inaugurated by Uruguay's President José Mujica, who, in his opening speech, not only advocated greater equality of access to ICTs in order to narrow the digital divide in Latin America but also pointed out that “the world is a place where people want to be connected to everything and, conversely, are becoming increasingly less connected to their own feelings.” The blog Hábeas Data, published by Argentina's Center for Personal Data Protection, added:
En esta línea, Mujica remarcó la importancia de aumentar el compromiso por disminuir la brecha digital en el acceso a las tecnologías de la información y comunicación (TICs) existente en América Latina a las cuales se refirió como “instrumentos desafiantes”. Pero, el mandatario también fue desafiante al señalar que “si la tecnología avanza en una sociedad de bestias, el producto será de bestias”. En pos de este argumento y para dejar inagurada la conferencia agradeció a los presentes “por lo que puedan hacer por mejorar la bestia que llevamos dentro”.
In this sense, Mujica emphasized the importance of increasing commitment to narrowing the digital divide in terms of current access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) in Latin America, which he calls “challenging instruments.” But, the President was also provocative, arguing that “if technology advances in a society of savage beasts, the product will reflect this.” To support his argument, as he inaugurated the conference, he thanked participants for “what they could do to tame the beast we carry within us.”
Also speaking at the opening, Alicia Bárcena, the executive secretary of CEPAL, pointed out that Latin American and Caribbean countries were moving technologically at “two very different speeds,” so it is important to strengthen public institutions and policies with a long term strategic vision. She indicated that, while a recent study revealed the ICT sector is responsible for 3.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, “in the 27 countries of the European Union the rate is 5%”. Journalist and researcher Clarisa Herrera added further examples in an article in Pulso Social, including mobile broadband use statistics:
…en los tres países más avanzados es 15 veces mayor que en los más rezagados. Además, se observa un aumento de la brecha digital de América Latina respecto de los países de la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE) en banda ancha móvil (11% versus 55% de penetración en 2011).
In the three most advanced countries, it is 15 times greater than those most lagging behind. Moreover, the digital divide in mobile bandwidth is increasing for Latin America with respect to members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—11 versus 55% penetration in 2011.
The tangible outcome of the conference was the ratification of a document call the “Montevideo Declaration” in which the representatives of the participating countries resolved to approve, among several points, a roadmap for 2013-2015 and to reaffirm their commitment to implementing the results of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10). However, the most significant point of this accord was that it rejected “any attempt to appropriate in any language, without due consent from the countries of the region, the designation Amazon or Patagonia as well as any other generic top-level domain names (gTLD) [en] referring to geographical, historical, cultural or natural entities, as these should be preserved because of their heritage and cultural value.” On his blog, Peruvian lawyer Erick Iriarte commented that it is the first time at one of these meetings that a regional stand on Internet policies has been so clearly stated, and he adds:
Más allá que Perú haya sido quien propuso el párrafo, con el apoyo de Brasil, Argentina, Chile y Ecuador, han sido los países de toda la región de América Latina y el Caribe quienes han expresado su posición clara en torno a lo que el GAC (NdA: Governmental Advisory Committee (Comité Asesor Gubernamental) del ICANN) debe tomar como acción, en la reunión que está ocurriendo en estos momentos en Beijing, en el marco de la 46 reunión del ICANN. [...] ¿sabrá el GAC oír esta posición de los países de América Latina? Y mejor aún la pregunta a hacerse es ¿el ICANN está preparado para que el GAC no escuche a América Latina, región que ha trabajado arduamente para fortalecer el GAC y diversos espacios de dialogo multistakeholder?
Beyond the fact that Peru proposed the paragraph in question, with the support of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador, it is noteworthy that countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean clearly expressed their position that the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) [en] of ICANN [en] must take action in the meeting happening right now in Beijing, as part of the 46th ICANN conference. [...] Will GAC listen to Latin America's position? And more to the point, the question is whether ICANN is prepared for GAC to ignore Latin America, a region that has worked assiduously to strengthen GAC and many other areas of dialogue among stakeholders.
As indicated by the aforementioned Alicia Bárcena: “These countries are defending names that reflect our heritage and identity against plundering third parties.” In fact, during the 46th meeting of ICANN [en] in Beijing, April 7-11, the Peruvian government reiterated its objection to possible registration of the Internet domain name “.amazon” by a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc. It would seem the plea by Latin American countries was heard: at the end of the ICANN meeting in Beijing, the GAC informed [en] Amazon that some of its requested generic top-level domain names (gTLDs)—.amazon and .patagonia—which had been petitioned by another company could be rejected for being problematic. Greater support is expected from Amazon and other applicants in similar situations, the particulars of which will be available at the next ICANN meeting in July in Durban, South Africa.
To return to Uruguay's ministerial conference, the economist Alfredo Velazco, writing for Usuarios de Internet del Ecuador, offered his opinion of the event:
…se matizó con conferencias con temas muy interesantes, lastimosamente poca audiencia, sin espacio para preguntas y poco debate por la sociedad de la información en redes sociales. Nos queda el reto como sociedad civil abrir más espacios, en especial en lo que tienen que ver con la creación de políticas públicas en nuestros gobiernos; pero también aportar en los espacios digitales.
The conference featured interesting topics, [but] unfortunately [had] poor attendance, without time for questions and little discussion of the information society in social networks. As a civil society, we are left with the challenge of opening up more space, especially with regards to the creation of public policies in our governments; but also where digital space is concerned.
The next ministerial conference on the information society of Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in Mexico in 2015. For more information on the meeting in Montevideo, take a look at #eLAC2015 on Twitter.