h.d.mabuse on 20 Dec 2000 18:57:50 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Brazil Port Trades Prostitution for Computation


December 19, 2000
Brazil Port Trades Prostitution for Computation
Filed at 12:02 p.m. ET

RECIFE, Brazil (Reuters) - At the tender age of 14, Carlos Peixoto started 
rowing prostitutes out to ships docked in the port of Recife, earning 
enough money to buy two homes.

These days few ships call at old Recife and most of the prostitutes have 
migrated to busier moorings. Peixoto, now 27 and worried about his future, 
has enrolled in a free computer course to prepare for the exam for a 
seafarer's license.
Like Peixoto, the 465-year-old port city needs to be recycled and 
technology could pave the way to a new life. Government officials have 
teamed up with local technology leaders to lay the foundations for the 
``Digital Port'' where a homegrown information technology industry may 

A South American Silicon Valley in the works? More like a Software Delta 
situated on the lush, tropical coast of northeastern Brazil.
``A chip factory costs $2 billion and we cannot afford that, but we do have 
lots of garages with lots of kids writing software,'' said Silvio Meira, 
director of the Recife Center of Advanced Studies and Systems (CESAR), 
whose garage is its brightly colored laboratory.
Created seven years ago at the Federal University of Pernambuco to link the 
academic field with the technology market, CESAR today is considered a 
world-class innovator, creating software solutions for the likes of the 
United Nations and converting meek students into bold entrepreneurs.

Meira, at 45, looks like one of the kids in his surfer attire. Now he and 
other fortysomethings -- intellectuals, artists and former hippies who met 
while rallying against the military dictatorship in the 1970s -- think they 
can open the doors on the Digital Port by early 2002.
``It may not work, but no part of it is original. There are pieces of 
Bangalore, Israel, Ireland, Buenos Aires, Bilbao, Canary Wharf...'' Meira 
said, enumerating successful technology clusters and urban renewal projects 
around the globe.


If the Digital Port takes off, it will not be the first time Recife 
achieves world-class status. Back in 1640, it boasted the highest per 
capita income in the Western world as a major seaport and sugar exporting 
center under Dutch occupation.
The city housed the first Jewish synagogue in the Americas and a slew of 
Roman Catholic monasteries dedicated to higher learning. It was the 
springboard for such illustrious Brazilians as anti-slavery crusader Castro 
Alves and newspaper magnate Assis Chateaubriand.
In more modern times, Recife has drawn musical cognoscenti around the world 
with its original take on regional music known as ``Mangue Beat'' or the 
Mangrove Beat, spearheaded by the late Chico Science and by Fred Zero Quatro.

But the city on the mangroves -- ``the Brazilian Venice'' -- has been 
struggling since the sugar industry ran into competition from Sao Paulo 
state 30 years ago and a massive deep water port opened down the coast.

``The reconversion of our economy is our greatest challenge,'' said Claudio 
Marinho, Pernambuco state Secretary of Science and Technology and a main 
mover in the Digital Port with Meira.

Conditions are ripe for new ventures in Brazil as the economy recovers from 
its crushing 1999 currency devaluation to grow at a healthy rate of around 
4 percent annually. And even before serious work gets under way for the 
Digital Port, Recife is already reverberating with the clanging and sawing 
of construction and clinking of glasses in the new outdoor cafes.

``This island surrounded by sea and river is the cradle of the city's 
growth,'' said Leonardo Guimaraes, an architect working on the project. 
``It is from here that we became known in the world so it makes sense to 
put our Digital Port here.''

Right next to where Peixoto ties up his boat, two warehouses that used to 
hold sugar and molasses will house CESAR and the state-backed technology 
incubator Itep, Brazil's second largest. Dilapidated but majestic colonial 
buildings are under renovation to host a society of software companies. The 
Port Command will be home to the university information technology facilities.

Private capital -- whether established corporations or Bill Gates wannabes 
-- is expected to drop anchor around the public flotilla. Even small 
business is preparing for the computer revolution on streets that once were 
famous for their brothels.
Vitor Teixeira, recently arrived from Portugal, has opened Giardino 
Cyber-bar where clients can surf the Net while sipping a cold draft beer. 
``Up to now I've only been able to survive with tourists, but Brazilians 
take well to novelties.''


Recife is a city of contrasts where shantytowns straddling raw sewage rub 
up against pretty seaside neighborhoods and crumbling, chaotic schools 
compete for space with sophisticated shopping centers.

Pouring public money into a technology cluster where basic sanitation and 
schooling are lacking may seem superfluous to some, but government 
officials say they cannot wait for the city's social problems to be solved 

``If you wait, then you are going to have dual illiteracy, traditional and 
digital,'' Marinho said. He and Meira hold firm to the belief that the 
technological know-how of the Digital Port will trickle down to the 
shantytowns and reduce the social divide that cuts across the city of 1.4 

The government has earmarked $17 million for the project, of which $2.5 
million will go to a technology training fund.
Meira dreams of a programming school that can churn out 100 graduates a 
month, who can go on to earn $500 a month or five times Brazil's minimum 
wage of $100.

Port proponents also aim to reverse the local brain drain. Twelve CESAR 
alumnae work at Microsoft headquarters and others have gone to top tech 
slots at Cisco, AT&T and France Telecom.

The relaxed atmosphere of northeastern Brazil, postcard perfect palm-lined 
beaches, year-round warm weather, a thriving cultural life and a renowned 
street Carnival may even entice a few foreigners.

``People are the essential asset,'' said Meira. ``Money is not the problem 
anymore, that is already coming.''

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