Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

COMMUNICATIONS: Mexico, Andean Nations Agree on Satellites

Jose Zambrano

CARACAS, Dec 18 1997 (IPS) - A satellite “war” between Mexico and the five countries of the Andean Community has ended with the signing of a cooperation agreement, crafted in the past few months of the year.

Signals from the Mexican satellites Solidaridad I and Solidaridad II and Morelos, will now reach Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela without interference.

In exchange, the Andean countries will receive assistance from Mexico in the development of their own Satellite, which has been named Simon Bolivar.

Andesat, the Andean communications arm, will have exclusive commercial rights to the Mexican signal, and will have leasing rights and access to the transposers (segments of satellite signals) at preferential prices. It will be able to begin operations immediately with full access to Mexican satellite infrastructure.

The Andean countries will immediately be able to access educational programs at a distance, and use the infrastructure for cultural, economic and technological exchange in association with the Mexican network. It will also receive support in the development of its own satellite.

In exchange, the Andean Community reversed its refusal of the Mexican satellite signal and dropped its litigation over the use of orbital space 109 West, which for many years was considered to have been “invaded” by Mexico.

“The Mexicans took a dramatic lead,” said one official. “For Andean countries, it was very difficult to continue competing with their makeshift satellite.”

A satellite of their own is a dream that Andean countries have nurtured for more than 20 years.

In the late 1980s, this dream materialized in the Condor project, which came to a halt amidst the financial crisis that affected the region. But in the 1990s, the dream came back to life in the Simon Bolivar project which, as the privatization of telecommunications advanced, was placed in the hands of an Andean multinational Andesat comprised of some 40 investors.

Studies estimated that a 300 million dollars investment is needed, considering that the satellite could bring in between 120 and 150 million dollars each year, with annual profits of 40 to 45 million. Such figures suggests that the satellites that is put in orbit needs to have a productive life span of approximately 12 years.

The immediate task at the moment is to acquire management and marketing expertise until Andesat is ready to order it, put it in orbit and begin operating – it’s a process that will take at least two years.

The Simon Bolivar is meant to to be a hybrid satellit with the capacity for 50 transposers and for use in telephone communications, television, VSAT and other business services in countries in the region.

A member of Venezuela’s Telecommunications Council told IPS that the end of the satellite war with Mexico should prompt governments and Andesat to speed up their search and not hesitate to invest capital. “There would be nothing worse right now than to sit on our haunches.”

The agreement between Mexico and the Andean countries, signed in the capital cities of the countries involved over the past two months, includes a commitment from Mexico to help locate an adequate orbital position for the Simon Bolivar and coordinate efforts with the “neighbors in space.”

For the Mexican ambassador in Caracas, Jesus Puente Leyva, who led the efforts that culminated in the signing of the agreement, the accord “broadens the spectrum of regional cooperation and fulfills the mandate of the Rio Group and the Group of Three (Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela).”

“It is a historic accord” for all of Latin America, the diplomat said. (FIN/IPS/jz/dg/if-cr/mg/97)

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