Frederick Noronha on 4 Oct 2000 21:11:18 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] NEWS: What Open Source promises the Third World....

Mexico Has Resources for High-Tech Success


An open letter to Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox:

Congratulations on your historic victory in the presidential
election. About 100 million Mexicans and others who love Mexico
are eager for change in your country, and they have high hopes
when your new administration takes office in December.

But clearly, one issue of great importance is how to bring Mexico
into the "new economy" of the Internet, high tech and global
commerce. Mexico has many resources in technology to exploit, but
they have been obstructed by weak or bad government policies. You
can change this.

Let me offer you some suggestions on how you might start.

First, Mexico's future lies with free, "open source" software
like the operating system Linux, and Gnome, another open-source
effort to build a Windows-like screen. Gnome itself was developed
by a young Mexican programmer, Miguel de Icaza, who is 27 years
old. This summer, De Icaza started the Gnome Foundation
( to unify and stabilize the Linux desktop
software, and he acquired the support of IBM, Sun Microsystems,
Hewlett-Packard and Compaq, among other major U.S. companies. He
is a hero to young programmers around the world, and he should be
a hero to all Mexicans. You should meet with Miguel de Icaza and
get to know him and young people like him. They are the best hope
for Mexico.

Obviously, the biggest benefit of free software to Mexico is that
it's literally free, and Mexico is a poor country that needs to
preserve its capital. Mexico has a new law on software piracy,
for example, and your government will need to enforce this law
for Mexico to be regarded as a trusted partner in high-tech
trade. But if you do enforce the software piracy law effectively,
it will result in a massive transfer of pesos to the United
States, and principally to Microsoft, the largest victim of
software piracy in Mexico.

Alternatively, you could promote the use of free software such as
Linux, Gnome and application packages such as Sun Microsystems'
StarOffice suite, which are all free. No pesos would leave Mexico
and you would get all of the functionality of modern software.
Indeed, you'd become part of a trend that is sweeping the
computing field in the U.S. IBM, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq
are all offering Linux on computers now. IBM is essentially a
Linux company these days, an astonishing transformation. Mexico
would not lose anything by adopting free software, indeed, it
would move to the cutting edge of technology.

Your government should also think about creating an elite but
grassroots-oriented corps of young free-software evangelists,
programmers, hackers and systems developers who could build on
the culture and spirit of the embryonic free-software movement.
Give them an identity with special shirts or jackets and
specially painted pickup trucks to go out to villages and towns,
and elevate them to hero status in Mexico. They should have an
esprit de corps that reflects both their enthusiasm for their
work and their patriotism. Send them around the world to
technical and trade conferences and make them stand out--make
them the young, technically skilled enthusiasts everyone wants to
work with.

* * *

Joakim Ziegler is one of these wizard-like programmers. He's
Norwegian, but he lives in Mexico City because he loves it there.
He works for Helix Code, the company started by Miguel de Icaza.
Ziegler is also in his twenties. He told me, "A change as radical
as the internal use of free software"--meaning use by the
government itself--"would be an indication of real change." The
Federal Election Commission in Mexico used free software to run
this year's election, but other government agencies have yet to
grasp its benefits.

Ziegler also said, "Small companies run by enthusiastic young
people don't have a lot of status in Mexico right now." Too many
of Mexico's young entrepreneurs have moved to the U.S. to start
companies. In Mexico, there's too much government red tape,
credit is too expensive and there is a culture of "not what you
do, but who you know," all of which are obstacles to building the
kind of entrepreneurial spirit Mexico needs. You should make
Mexico a place that is as easy to start a business in as it is in
California or Texas.

Mexico also needs a better telecommunications infrastructure.
Telmex, the recently privatized national phone company, and its
competitors, such as Avantel, are slowly building up their
capabilities. But they will not soon reach the vast numbers of
Mexicans who live in underserved and poor areas.

* * *

So you should pay attention to a San Diego company called Tachyon
Inc. (, which is doing business in Mexico.
Tachyon has a contract for using SatMex 5, the powerful Mexican
satellite that covers all of Mexico. Tachyon is offering
inexpensive two-way Internet service via satellite, and it can
serve every town and village in Mexico right now.

The company's vice president, Santiago Ontanon, who is 33 and
from Mexico City, told me that its price for broadband Internet
connectivity for a typical Mexican school with five to 10
computers is only about $300 to $400 per month. This is thousands
of dollars less than what Telmex can offer, and it can happen
tomorrow, not in some indefinite future. Incidentally, the ground
equipment Tachyon provides its customers runs on Linux.

With the combination of free software and inexpensive Internet
connectivity, as well as building on Mexico's Red Escolar
(SchoolNet) program for wiring Mexican schools, the country could
become the world's leading example of affordable high-tech
infrastructure for the rest of the world's developing nations.
Moreover, the philosophy behind free, open-source software fits
well with your important ideas about a new "open society" in

There will be strong pressures, both internally and externally,
for Mexico to adopt a conventional model of development,
dependent on big corporate players and mega-deals. But you have
the opportunity to foster something different and far more
interesting. Throw your power, prestige and vision to your young
people, to your entrepreneurs and innovators and to the practical
idealists of the free software movement. This will pay off in the
long run, and it could dramatically transform Mexico.

* * *

Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the
University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at

Recent Digital Nation columns are available at

Search the archives of the Los Angeles Times for similar stories
about:  Business - Mexico, Computer Industry - Mexico, Computer

You will not be charged to look for stories, only to retrieve one. 

Nettime-bold mailing list