Civil Society, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

LATIN AMERICA: Reg’l Meet Promotes Inclusive Information Society – In Theory

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 11 2005 (IPS) - Non-governmental organisations and networks protested their exclusion from the Regional Preparatory Ministerial Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, held this week in Rio de Janeiro.

"The mechanisms for participation and rules of procedure established in the framework of the Summit have not been respected," declared 22 groups, which included the Network of Argentine Digital Organisations (RODAR) and Brazil’s Information Network for the Third Sector (RITS).

Only four official delegations, those of Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay, had civil society representatives among their members.

Ironically, the Rio de Janeiro Declaration and Plan of Action, the two official documents adopted at the conference that wrapped up Friday, reiterated the commitment to create "an inclusive information society," and stressed that social participation is essential for achieving this objective.

Doubling the current number or reaching the point where one-third of public schools and libraries are connected to the Internet by mid-2007 is one of the numerous goals established for all of the region’s countries at this week’s meet, which began Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.

Other specific targets set by the Plan of Action, with a deadline of mid-2007, include providing "literacy training" in information and communication technologies (ICTs) for at least 2.5 percent of the working-age population every year, and doubling the number of community access centres, or ensuring at least one centre for every 20,000 people.

Health care centres and hospitals will also be the focus of a concerted effort over the next two years, so that in every country of the region, one third of them will be connected to the Internet, or alternatively, the current number will be doubled.

The flexibility of the goals established is based on the recognition of "different subregional, national and local realities." In Nicaragua, for example, only 109 of the country’s 12,000 schools are connected to the Internet today, José Ignacio López of the non-governmental Sustainable Development Network told IPS.

The divergent levels of ICT development around the region led to lengthy discussions on several of Brazil’s proposals, such as placing preference on "free" or open-source software.

In the end, the final declaration reflected the attempt made to appease all parties, stressing "the importance of proprietary computer software systems," which require the payment of copyrights, but simultaneously emphasising "the need to simulate and promote collaborative development, inter-operative platforms and open-source computer programmes."

With regard to digital television, an area in which Brazil is seeking to develop a system adapted to local conditions, the declaration noted the region’s "interest in continuing to carry out studies and research," as well as to explore other communications technologies with the aim of fostering digital inclusion, integration and regional cooperation.

The representatives of Latin American and Caribbean governments attending the conference also stated their "conviction that digital inclusion is an integral component in a world that is increasingly influenced by ICTs," which "should be used as an effective tool in the fight against hunger, poverty and illiteracy."

They further determined to use this potential of ICTs in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the international community at the United Nations General Assembly in 2000.

The eight goals set for the year 2015 include halving the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty and hunger and universalising primary education.

A complex issue that will be addressed in November at the second and final phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis is that of Internet Governance. Brazil presented its model for a managing committee that includes government, civil society, private sector and academic community participation.

Brazil also proposed the creation of a global forum, a body that would function outside the United Nations system (although U.N. involvement would be required for its approval and establishment) and serve as space for discussion of various Internet-related aspects, including infrastructure, security, privacy and intellectual property rights.

Despite the commitment to inclusiveness declared at this week’s preparatory conference, women’s groups protested their exclusion, and voiced their disappointment that a gender issues working group was not included among the goals set in the plan of action.

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