Open Enterprise Interview with Ryan Bagueros, North-by-South

Latin America is emerging as a real hotbed of open source

But, honestly, a lot of the work we've done to date hasn't been anything that would be that great of a contribution back into the community anyway. However, we have a couple CakePHP projects starting and we're definitely going to be pushing our customers to release some of the extensions we code back into the community (explaining that doing stuff like this can only help their brand). So, this is a goal we have and we're working on it.

What have been the key moments in the rise of open source in Latin America? Why do you think open source has such a strong foothold there? How far do you think free software will go in these countries?

There are a lot of key moments! I would emphasize Brazil's leadership in the Latin American free software movement. Brazil's President "Lula" da Silva's decree to migrate the government to open source was a key moment. Credit also goes to people like Marcos Mazoni, one of the earliest public officials to advocate for a shift to open source and also a dedicated manager who made it happen at SERPRO (the largest IT firm in the southern hemisphere) and has now been appointed to head up the federal technical committee to implement free software.

Brazil's Digital Inclusion initiative is also key - this impressive program has put open source computer labs all over Brazil, including remote areas of the Amazon only accessible by boat. In some parts of the Amazon, the open source VoIP provided by satellite internet is the only telephone access for those communities! More recently, Brazil's announcement at FISL9 that they will build 53,000 educational computer labs serving 52 million students using Debian and KDE is phenomenal.

But it isn't just Brazil. Venezuela has also been a leader in free software adoption. I attended the World Social Forum in Caracas in 2006 and watched literally dozens of working class Venezuelans come by to have free software installed on their desktop machines. While in Caracas, I also met with people in charge of the migration happening there and they had direct access to the president and his staff.

Apparently, they told the president's staff that it would be helpful to have a car or something to get around Caracas with instead of taking cabs all the time and the next day, they were given three brand-new SUV's to use for their team! The Venezuelan open source migration managers were serious about open sourcing everything - from the software that makes the traffic lights in the city work to open source device drivers for medical technology like heart monitors.

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador invited Richard Stallman to meet with him and there has been a presidential decree to migrate to free software in Ecuador, as well. Cuba has also been a leader in pushing for free software adoption. There had been resistance within the academic community in Cuba but the University of Havana recently announced that they would fully back a free software migration within the university system there.

During the Argentine economic crisis when the government kept collapsing and people couldn't get their money out of banks, neighbourhood "asambleas" started to form to take over where the government could not anymore and all of their voting and decision-making was done via open source software systems.

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