A "Bolivarian" PC from Venezuela?

   
   
   
   
   
olpc Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez: pro OLPC?

While we all await news about the expired OLPC May 30 deadline, I am intrigued by the short mention that Venezuela's Chávez is discussing his own PC, potentially to donate to his neighbors to further his own political and/or international relationship goals.

The OLPC XO platform, with its webcam, microphone, battery life, and mesh networking capabilities has perhaps much more to offer Venezuela and Latin America than just as an educational tool - it can enable a new media voice of the people themselves with just a bit of video editing capabilities thrown in: One Multimedia Studio Per Child.

This is extremely valuable with recent events in Venezuela's TV shake-up. RCTV, the station which whose license was not renewed for airwave broadcasting, has already shown up on YouTube. In the large scope of things, video provides a compelling medium to reveal environmental, economic, and human rights issues, which has already provided much-needed action.

I lived for a short time in Venezuela, and in fact I was there during the 2002 coup. Without taking up too much space, I think the Chavez situation in Venezuela is complex; I worry about his dictatorial leanings, but am pleased that he offers a strong voice of dissent and resistance against detrimental policies affecting Latin America.

Those just tuning in should take a peek at both The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (video - wikipedia entry ) and the response piece, X-ray of a lie. It's a complex situation, and hard to find a non-biased view, including here.

As Wayan suggested, Chavez should look at the OLPC instead of going it alone and starting from scratch a blank slate. Indeed, it could be just the tool Venezuela's community TV initiatives are looking for. One example of these is Catia TV, which inspired TeleSUR:


Catia TV and Telesur
"Don't watch television. Make it."
TeleSUR's advisory council is formed by many international and regional leftist intellectuals, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, poet Ernesto Cardenal, writers Eduardo Galeano, Tariq Ali, Saul Landau, editor-in-chief of Le Monde diplomatique and historian Ignacio Ramonet, free software pioneer Richard Stallman and actor Danny Glover.

TeleSUR's current president is Andrés Izarra, who briefly served as Minister of Communication and Information (MCI) in Venezuela's government.

With such an impressive board, particularly with the tip of the hat to Free Software, it seems that the One Laptop Per Child, Children's Machine XO could provide a great platform to further democratize media in Venezuela and the rest of the South that TeleSUR aims to represent.

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8 Comments

"...it seems that the One Laptop Per Child, Children's Machine XO could provide a great platform to further democratize media in Venezuela and the rest of the South..."

Sorry to be blunt, but what makes you believe that Chávez has any intention of democratizing anything? Had that been his goal, he could easily had offered RCTV frequency to a different broadcaster, a non-profit consortium for instance. He decided to create a TV station under his complete control.

He is interested in spreading his view of the world, not democratizing society or debate. You may agree or not with his particular interpretation of current affairs, but that another discussion.

Also, his entire political enterprise is based on opposing American policies, and he's using China as an alternative for technology, capital and markets. Whatever the actual viability of his "bolivarian" computer is, the final purpose of his government is to set up a different structure of power; Venezuela's wealthy classes have strong relationships, economic, cultural and social, with the United States; to build his political base, he needs to dismantle them with something else. China, not looking for ideological comradeship as the Soviet Union used to, but just for markets and more power, is the ideal counterpart, as a new dual-power world structure seems to be emerging.

Check out http://tinyurl.com/yq9bul, from one of Peru's foremost political analysts, to have a sense of what I'm trying to explain here.

I think that Chavez perceives a benefit in spreading the ownership of media outlets (ok, reducing the influence of the major corporate players), and getting production in the hands of (primarily) his supporters is a way to do that while still singing the praises of democracy.

To expand on Eduardo's comment and be even more blunt, among other characteristics of the various "people's republics" has been a relentless effort to extinguish any dissent. Part of the recipe for successfully crushing dissent has been isolating the populace from both foreign and domestic communication.

In the Soviet Union copying machines each had their own secret police agent assigned. Despite that and other harsh measures there was a vigorous, if dangerous, distribution of clandestine publications known as "samizdat".

With that little history lesson in mind let's examine the OLPC from the view of the newest hero of the proletariat.

If a Xerox machine warranted an individual secret police agent and all the Xerox machine is capable of doing is making copies, imagine how frightening the OLPC must be. It's not just a copying machine capable of, for all practical purposes, infinite copying ability. It's also a still and movie camera, typewriter and *typesetter*, telephone, audio recording machine and audio recording studio, communication system, encryption system and, with a bit of hardware hacking, a data acquisition system, remote surveillance system and/or an international communications conduit.

Even worse, by design the OLPC has no easy, perhaps possible, means of control by government. There are no consumables such as toner as a copier would require and it doesn't even need a reliable source of electricity. Once loosed in the population it becomes untraceable, uncontrollable and with no obvious lifetime.

The OLPC in particular but personal computers in general are an authoritarians worst nightmare. Cellphones at least require a cell network but even that means of control is missing with the OLPC.

I don't have a high regard for Hugo Chavez' intelligence - he is after all a socialist - but I'm unwilling to believe he's stupid enough to loose this plague on his regime into the populace. I'd certainly welcome evidence to the contrary but it's too much to expect so Chavez' own PC will not have anywhere near the capabilities of the OLPC since to duplicate those capabilities would compound the stupidity of allowing freedoms which would be inherently difficult, perhaps impossible, to curb.

Allen, without getting into an argument about your distaste for socialists (being one, I'm not sure how you'd regard this response), I have to say that I agree with most of your analysis. It may be questionable how socialist is Mr. Chávez socialism, since it works only when his power is at risk. He's quite cozy with the Cisneros group, a Latin American communications powerhouse, mostly because the Cisneros group knows about keeping its master satisfied and it's not making any noises.

"Once loosed in the population it becomes untraceable, uncontrollable and with no obvious lifetime."

Allen, you're forgetting about the bitfrost security system, intended to deter theft, but adaptable to different goals. bitfrost can require that the laptops check in to a central server every x many days or deactivate themselves, and similarly a laptop can be reported as "stolen" such that when it reports in to the server, is deactivated immediately. It's not too hard to figure out ways to abuse that system to selectively deactivate groups of laptops in the case of their "misuse."

Also, it's not like most of Chavez's opposition (generally being the more well-off) don't already have home computers, or, in the RCTV case, their own TV stations. Giving out OLPCs (or his own variant) to the poor both increases their support for him and gives them their own ability to counter the opposition propaganda (with their own). I think Chavez is more politically adept than most people give him credit for.

"out OLPCs (or his own variant) to the poor both increases their support for him and gives them their own ability to counter the opposition propaganda (with their own)."

But the poor don't all support him, and what if he does something to alienate a significant portion of them? For instance, what if the price of oil drops and he has to cut his regime's social programs? Then oplc's would be used against him, and I am sure enough Chavez is smart enough to foresee such a threat.

I am with allen and the other Eduardo. There has never been an authoritarian ruler in history who has not tryed to suppress free communication.

I have a friend in Merida, Venezuela, who has been running network schools for Latin Americans since 92. I have spoken there twice. He also has been working on wifi and long distance wireless since the mid-90's. He said that some of the oil money is being used to set up 5000 wifi spots around the country, and I'll ask him about the Bolivarian pc to see what stage it's in.

It is very difficult for people who live outside of Venezuela to really know the huge crisis and misery this president has put the country in...to be brief i will just say that the budget that thsi country needs to be a very wealthy country with a flawless social security system is 24 billion dollars...because of the war in iraq Venezuela for the first time has four times more money then what it needs...

but the corruption is exaggerated...outside the military bases you can see all private 200.000 $ cars, the country should be bathed in gold and instead it is much more worse then 10 years ago, The oil company is in debt everyday more and it does not matter if you are middle class low class or high class they kill you on the streets for a pair of shoes,

the president has only created hate between the middle class and the very very poor class, which being very ignorant dont see what this man is doing to this country....everybody knows that this government makes income from the inflation and the devaluation...they move the economy to generate fantasy incomes do to their blocked change of the bolivar with the dollar....

people outside think that this man helps but this is all a big political campaign that its based on complete lies... this is the less socialist and comunist president in the world, he is just a fascist thief. And everybody knows in venezuela that the fight is not between the normal people and the very rich...the politicians that were rich before are even richer now.... the fight is between the low middle class and the very poor class...

because of chavez the low middle class has become part of the miserable class and they hate him ( because he blocks foreign ivestements, and blocks the prices of meat etc etc) and then there is the very very poor people that were never taken in consideration and that is the only thing that he is giving them...Hope and higher self esteem they feel important for the first time....

but the sad thing is that it is all a fantasy and it is already impossible for the country to recover from the damage that this man caused...the effects of the disaster will begin to show better when the oil barril prices start to fall...

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