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Report from the "Software Libre y Apropiación Social de Nuevas Tecnologias" conference in Santiago, Chile, May 26-29 2005

(mail sent to both -events lists, as there is, imho, no more
appropriate list. Please flame privately if you think we were mistaken)

>From May 26th to May 29th, Niv Sardi-Altivanik and I were invited to
attend the first "Encuentro Internacional de Software Libre y
Appropricion Social de las nuevas technologias" (International Meeting
of Free software and Social appropriation of new technologies), in
Universidad Arcis, Santiago, Chile (http://www.encuentromayo.cl/site/).

This event was supported by the French-Chilean cultural institute and
the French Embassy in Chile who covered our travel expenses as members
of the Debian project and french citizens.

I learned later than organisers also approached Gunnar Wolf to
participate the event, but, unfortunately, they had no funding
available to get him from Mexico to Chile. Gunnar was left unaware of this
issue which should not have happened. I hope that further actions
involving Debian in Chile will include him as active participant.

The goal of the event was getting together several actors of Free Software
in Latin America and conducting discussions about the social and political role
of Free Software in the development of new technologies in Latin
America, with great focus on getting everyone to be able to access the
New Technology.

The Universidad Arcis is an Arts and Social Science University in Santiago
and is among the most active places in Santiago and Chile in that field.

The conference official language was Spanish and most of the talks and
panel discussions were conducted in this language. This was a
difficult barrier for me to discuss with involved people as
representative of the Debian project because it limited the number of
people I have been able to deeply discuss with. Furtunately, Niv's
knowledge of Spanish compensated this and his input has been very
valuable on that matter.

In general, most of the talks focused on the increased importance of Free
Software in Latin America, espcially in the education system, with several
presentations about initiatives in this area, as well as the  knowledge
management field. But there were enough discussions about general free
software philosophy so that a total neophyte could get in the mood.

In general, we have perceived a very strong commitment in Free Software from
the education, knowledge and social areas in Latin America. A strong feeling
for the need of independence and universal access to information
technologies is very often raised. The political implications of such
choices are always very well assumed and even more claimed. This seems
to  be a very important difference from what we know in Europe or from USA.

Latin America is currently doing a very big step to enforce the use of Free
Software in  every possible field of activites with a strong focus on the
education systems. The example of Venezuela, where "Decreto 3390", a
government which enforces the choice for Free Software technologies in all
governmental agencies and activities, has been the strongest example,
explained by an important representative of the Ministry of Science and
Technology of Venezuela. Important representative of Argentinian and of
course Chilean education systems also focused on the increased importance of
Free Software technologies in their respective countries.

Niv and I gave a lecture about the Debian project, its organisation
and goals, as well as its "social" aspects. We insisted strongly on
what makes the Debian project specificity (independence, completely
volunteer, free software commitment).

The lecture slides are available at
http://people.debian.org/~bubulle/talks/encuentromayo2005/ (both
English and Spanish versions).

The lecture I initially prepared was finally given half in Spanish by Niv
when it came about Debian general presentation, and in English by myself for
the part about localisation (paradox...). We hopefully had our slides fully
translated in Spanish, thanks to Niv's huge effort.

The talk got a quite good and interested audience, even though the schedule
on the conference first day would have been better, given it a wider
audience, and more time for the interested persons to contact us at
the little improvised booth we had set-up (huge thanks to Ubuntu for
their technical support).

Informal talk was often focused either on the Debian way to Free Software
commitment, as well as the relations between the Debian project and the
Ubuntu project, but we did have some interested folks in the Hurd
development. Actually, it seems that Ubuntu has received an quite
important interest for some of the participants, mostly because its
quite good distribution (a local Free Software distributor, focused on
free and wide distribution of Free Software, was around distributing
Ubuntu CD sets) and partly because the really low connectivity of the
country (about 20% of the homes get net access, and it's usually
really slow) witch makes it really hard to download the Debian
distribution, where the Old (for desktop use) stable release and
Fearsomely named Testing/Unstable are not well known. Any way, the
size of the Debian archive and the lack of separation between desktop
essentials and extras make it a really rebutting choice.

We had several exchanges with local people interested in knowing more about
the project and, here again, we tried to focus on what makes Debian real
fitted to the goals of the participants to the event.

At the end of the event, the organisers invited all participants to sign a
formal declaration named "Declaracion de Mayo", written as a strong
political and social commitment to Free Software, formally requesting all
governments and authorities in Latin America to establish and maintain
strong positions to favourize the choice of Free Software technologies for
all electronic government, knowledge management and education areas.

We signed the statement in our names as we obviously were not in position to
do it in the name of the Debian project (which seems quite difficult to do

The organisers mentioned us ideas for launching something named "Debian
cathedra", as a kind of foundation based on the Debian project, to impulse
local participation in Free Software development, localisation to the
Spanish language and related work, in Latin America.

I personally insisted on the importance to build such project first by
involving the people already involved in the Debian project, in all Latin
American countries. We unfortunately wouldn't have the participation of
Bruno Barrera, the only Debian developer in Chile, nor any other
participation by a DD from Latin America. 

Thankfully, I was able to meet Bruno Barrera later, and we also discussed
these issues, both concluding that all DD from Latin America may be the
foundation of such organisation, along maybe with informal groups such as
Debianchile (though Bruno has never been in contact with the people involved

As a conclusion, our presence in this event has probably enhanced the strong
role that Debian may have in the development of Free Software in Latin
America, witch seems to be really seduced by the philosophical part of
the project. We deeply recommend that, for obvious language reasons,
Debian representative trying to involve themselves over there have
some good Spanish language skills, though. It may then become event
better received, undoubtfully.

We would also recommend that the Debian project makes some effort to bring a
few more developers from Latin America in Debian conferences, with increased
sponsoring, if financially possible. Bruno Barrera, for instance, could
certainly build a more close network with other DD from Latin America, by
coming over to the Helsinki conference.

We would like to thank the conference organisers and our guests, Hugo
Muñoz Baronti and Eduardo Hamuy, as well as the French Embassy in
Chile and the Instituto Chileno Francés de Cultura. Hopefully we will
be able to make it in Encuentromayo 2006 (see you in SCL!).


Conference web site: http://www.encuentromayo.cl/site/
Our talk           : http://people.debian.org/~bubulle/talks/encuentromayo2005/
Pictures           : http://www.perrier.eu.org/gallery/chile2005


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