Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 20:43:52 -0500 (CDT)
From: Bill Koehnlein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Granma (Cuba): Internet in Latin America
Eight billion dollars generated by Internet in Latin America
By Lilliam Riera, Granma International Havana, Number 290, 27 October 1999
But this technology is still out of reach for most of the region's population. More than 700 specialists from 25 countries met in Havana for the Info '99 international convention. Cuba continues to gain awareness of information's importance
AMONG the indices that divide countries into rich and poor, one must necessarily consider the extent to which nations can employ information technology.
What today constitutes one of the most prosperous industriesexpanding at a rate two times faster than the world economy as a wholehas developed new technologies that, in the last decade, have practically made possible the elimination of geographic borders.
But it has also occasioned that brutal avalanche of information brought by the entire media as President Fidel Castro once described itfrom the developed North to the developing South.
The global imbalance in the use and flow of this important resource, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do without, was a crucial theme during the Info '99 international convention that took place in Havana during the first days of October, with the participation of more than 700 specialists from 25 nations.
It's inevitable to cite some data to understand the undeniable necessity of confronting these issues: the scientific publications of Ibero-American authors only represent 4.5% of the total of those found in the main world-renowned data bases; and even though currently the Internet industry moves some $8 billion USD through Latin America and is projected to arrive at $13 billion by the end of 2003, this technology is still far from reaching from the majority of Latin Americans.
To access the Internet, one must be literate, have a computer and know English. However elemental these requisites seem, there still exists a high degree of illiteracy in the developing world, and only 3% of registered websites are in Spanish.
In addition, the cost of the hardware to connect to the Internet remains steep in comparison to the general income of Latin Americans. As if that weren't enough, more than 80% of the world's population lacks sufficiently modern communications for those ends.
As a result, 70% of those navigating the Internet live in the seven most powerful countries.
The United States and Canada, for example, with less than five percent of the world's population, have 50% of the Internet access. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa, with almost 10% of the planet's inhabitants, accounts for only 0.1% of the users. Only around 10 million homes in all of Latin America have Internet access, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group published recently by Reuters, while in the United States, by 1997, 57 million people had access.
A TOOL TO MAKE BUSINESS DECISIONS
The developing nations' businesses have to prepare themselves, not only to assimilate the new information technologies that already influence all sectors of life, but to develop the management of information, for the sake of their competitiveness, through what has been called corporate intelligence.
The use of this tool is vital, particularly to make appropriate decisions when carrying out commercial operations and finances that, in addition, today are made by computer.
This is an aspect that is still being consolidated in Cuba. The problem is that we don't have sufficient knowledge of the use of this tool that is essential to reach the level of efficiency which the country is now trying to attain, said Eduardo Orozco Silva, director of Biomundi consultants, part of the Institute of Information and Scientific and Technological Documentation, within the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.
Even though it's something that happens less and less frequently, various Cuban entities, after opening up to foreign capital, have tried to enter unknown markets, without prior study of their characteristics. "Sometimes," Orozco told us, "they have started businesses without sufficient information about the future partner."
Currently in Cuba, "the foundation is being laid to make information a strategic resource and one that can be marketed to contribute to the improvement of organizations and citizens," said Nicolás Garriga, director of the IDICT, during the opening ceremony of Info `99.
- Despite the delicate economic situation that's affecting the country, Cuba's government and institutions have shown interest in gathering information, in order to be able to maintain the levels reached in health, education, scientific development, tourism and other sectors which the country enjoys, expressed Oscar Saavedra, agent for Latin America for EBSCO Information Services, one of the world leaders in the administration of those services.
This executive feels that the Cuban market is very important, qualitatively, for businesses like ours.
Particularly interesting was the exposition on the benefits of virtual libraries, through which it's possible to not only stay up to date, but also electronically visit museums, art galleries...with only the touch of a key or the mouse. However, there was consensus on the necessity for them to coexist with traditional libraries, not only because of unequal development among countries, but because the printed book has a cultural significance and utility that the Internet could never supplant.
For that reason, ordinary librarians, especially those still unfamiliar with the information superhighway, weren't forgotten. On the contrary, it was analyzed how to train these professionals so that they can collaborate with the formation of the users that the new millennium demands.
The theme of distance education was also debated by the delegates, who indicated the importance of taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies to prepare and modernize the professionals of diverse sectors, fundamentally in the underdeveloped nations.
But the importance of Info '99 cannot be measured only by the interest that their debates awakened, nor by the high number of specialists in attendance, but by its contribution to increasing awareness of the vital need for the Third World to be actively incorporated, and become competitive, in the information market, in today's global village of which we are a part.
If not, our nations will enter the third millennium blindly.
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