Venezuela: 21st Century Technology for 21st Century Socialism

Nestled
in the heart of Barrio 23 de Enero, a large impoverished neighborhood in
Caracas, among the man-made ranchos with red brick walls and metal roofing,
stands the Ramon Ismael Ramos Infocenter. It is one of several government
programs aimed at improving access to technology among those near or below the
poverty line.
By Lainie Cassel - Green Left Weekly
Short URL

Nestled in
the heart of Barrio 23 de Enero, a large impoverished neighborhood in Caracas,
among the man-made ranchos with red brick walls and metal roofing, stands the
Ramon Ismael Ramos Infocenter.

Filled
with over 70 state-of-the-art computers and flat-screen monitors, the space
offers a sharp contrast to the surrounding barrio.

One of the
cornerstones of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian revolution, as
the process led by President Hugo Chavez of changing Venezuela to meet to needs
of the poor is known, is the use of technology to improve the lives of the
majority of the population that lives near or below the poverty line.

In a
country where nearly all major media outlets are controlled by a handful of the
country's richest citizens, and are hostile to the process of change, the
government sees access to technology as a crucial tool to democratize the
media.

The recent
launching of Satellite Simon Bolivar is among the government's initiatives to
promote technological sovereignty (that is, Venezuelan control over, and
promotion of, technology).

The
satellite, Venezuela's first, will help bring education, communication and
medical services to even the most remote areas of the country.

Infocenters

However,
the more popular approach to technological sovereignty among communities can
best be seen in the growing number of computer centers opening throughout the
country. Called "infocenters", they offer local residents an array of
technology-based services, including computer training and access to the
internet, plus space for residents to use for community purposes.

These
services are offered for free.

In 2000,
the government began the initiative with the opening of 220 infocenters in what
now has grown to nearly 700 around the country. What is now called the Infocenter
Foundation was created in 2007 to oversee the implementation of the infocenters
and similar projects.

The
foundation is funded by the country's massive oil revenue, with its main
headquarters in downtown Caracas. It was constructed as a response to decrees
written in 1999 and in 2007 that made access to internet and technological
development priorities for the new government.

According
to the foundation's website, it aims to "facilitate community building,
collective wisdom and knowledge transfer". In this way, it intends to
"strengthen the potential development of local and social networks and popular
power".

Other
programs work to reach out to more remote areas. The "infomobile", a truck
filled with the same resources as an infocenter, travels to many rural areas.

A third
program places "infopoints" in public areas, such as schools and government
office buildings. The infopoints contain computers meant solely for the use of
internet. Since its commencement in 2004, 400 infopoints have opened around the
country.

Another
program is aimed at bringing internet connection to personal computers in
houses and community buildings. This aims to help decrease traffic in
infocenters while bringing the internet directly to the people.

The
Venezuelan government plans to use the centers to close the technology gap
between the rich elite and the poor majority, many of whom have never worked
with a computer. It offers free classes under its National Plan for Technology
Literacy (PNAT).

Article
110 of the constitution, which was adopted by referendum in 1999 and contains
many of the pro-poor principles guiding the revolution, describes access to
technology as an "essential tool for economic development and social policy."

PNAT was
created by the Infocenter Foundation in line with this article, in order to
teach community members the basic functions of a computer, including word
processing, creating power point presentations, searching for information on
the web and using emails.

The
courses run for twenty hours and are given in infocenter and infomobile
locations. They are taught by community members, including former students of
the program.

Community
Spaces

One of the
main focuses of the foundation is in creating networks within communities and
opening up spaces for residents to organize.

A number
of programs offer spaces and courses for community members to put together a
newspaper, radio or TV station. The centers are often kept busy with community
members, from youth working on homework assignments to the elderly writing
their first email.

A resident
taking advantage of the free services in the Ramon Ismael Ramos Infocenter
said: "In the past, the poor if anything were offered a minimum supply of food
and at times shelter. The computer centers are an important benefit to our
community."

Programs
like the infocenters also allow for citizens to create their own methods of
communication that do not rely on private or government television, radio, or
print channels.

In a
country that experienced a short lived coup against Chavez in 2002 that was
largely organized by the major media outlets, many Venezuelans can see the
importance the media, and therefore access to it, plays in politics.

With the
Western media demonizing the Chavez government after one major media
corporation central to the coup, RCTV, failed to have its public TV license
renewed, the media war between the opposition and government has increased.
Both sides have been desperate for new strategies.

Initiatives
by the government to democratize the media are an important step in winning
this media war.

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