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La Plaza Abierta: Building a Latin American Internet Commons
by Ron Mader and Molly Molloy


Asomõndose a Oaxaca: Las redes sociales @ Imparcial 07.2011


MIAMI - March 12, 1997 -- This past week Florida International University sponsored a meeting of "Webmasters of key Latin America and Caribbean websites."

Such a gathering poses a number of questions. Why does a gathering of Internet webmasters need to occur in a physical place at all? And second, why wasn't the local community more actively involved in the preparation? The following is a response co-written by Molly Molloy, host of the Internet Resources for Latin America and Ron Mader, founder of


We both became interested in the Web as a way to find information not readily available from traditional sources.

For Latin Americanists, the Internet now serves as a welcome tool to access current and detailed information. And, perhaps more importantly, the net has empowered scholars, activists, journalists and others, to create and disseminate unique information from and about the region to the rest of the world.

Thus, the primary value of the Internet is communication: networks of people keeping each other aware of events and activities; creating communities of affinity without geographic limitations.

We hope that this week's meeting in Miami will illuminate ongoing communication efforts, rather than create new labyrinths that hinder interamerican dialogue. Duplication of efforts is a poor use of limited resources. Will these concerns be raised at the Miami meeting? And, can others express their opinions through online proceedings accessible on the web?


As Latin American inter-networking grows more sophisticated, I wonder if any attempt to organize it into a "confederation or consortium" (one of the aims of the meeting) will be necessary or useful.

I'm more interested in reports from a local human rights organization in San Cristóbal or Lima, for instance, than in the ability to get a United Nations document or a New York Times article on the web. Mainstream information providers have and will always have the venues and resources to sell or distribute their information.

However, the Internet has provided a new and unique communication space for the NGOs, non-profits, and individual creators and publishers to get information out to the world.

As an extension of the ubiquitous "superhighway" vision of the Internet, I'd like to propose that we focus on the "blue highways" -- a metaphor from Blue Highways: A Journey into America, the 1982 best-seller by William Least Heat Moon.

The sectors of the net I'm most interested in correspond to these backroads that do not travel to fancy shopping malls and fast food outlets, but provide a slower trip with more interesting shops, tastier food, and most importantly, access to unique people and places.

I see an important role today for Internet activists to work to maintain the shrinking space on the net for local, independent, individual information creators/providers. In the process of proposing any new "organization" relating to the Internet, we should ask ourselves if such an entity will help or hinder the independent sectors on the net.

As far as the task of "organizing" what's already on the web-- this is a quixotic task. But, the combination of human-designed net guides and automated searching tools has vastly improved our ability to find things in just the last few years. As the quantity of information grows, we will rely more on automated search and discovery.

Can we do anything to ensure that information produced by local communities in Latin America and other world regions, non-English language sources, and other non-mainstream information remains "findable," as search technologies become mega-commodities, bought and sold by the richest technology corporations in the world?


While Florida International University's AmericasNet website ostensibly focuses on a given region, it is also unabashedly Florida-centric. Perhaps the university is posturing to both its funders and international colleagues that FIU actually is interested in inter-hemispheric exchange.

AmericasNet played a pioneering role during the 1994 Summit of the Americas, but the website has since floundered. I sense that the March 1997 gathering of webmasters was little more than a photo shoot.

I don't mean to single out this particular university. Institutions have notoriously information-poor websites. If you're looking for more than a snazzy home page, it's hard to find details or updates within university or government sites. How can Latin American webmasters work together to ensure that official documentation is posted and archived on the Internet immediately and regularly?

I would argue that the taxpayer-funded reports and meetings should have more disclosure on the Web. It seems absurd that when another Miami university co-sponsored a meeting on "Strengthening Public Participation in Environment and Sustainable Development Policy-Making in the Americas" a few weeks ago, it was by invitation only.

Frankly, I'm more concerned about the availability of official documentation *and* the meeting notes than grassroots reports. When NGOs and government officials met behind closed doors in preparation for the recent Bolivia Summit, they were in fact shutting the doors on public awareness, and consequently, participation.


Informal networking among webmasters has improved a number of fine websites, that take full advantage of the interactivity of the Internet. The University of Texas' Latin American Network and Information Center (LANIC) depends on submissions and suggestions.

Internetworking activities related to the indigenous Zapatista rebellion and other political events in Mexico beginning in 1994 embody a new model of communication and activism made possible by the Internet. Scholars and activists created new lists and newsgroups that quickly developed into a decentralized, cooperative, global network of websites that provide current news and archival information about the EZLN and other popular movements in Mexico. One example, see Zapatistas in Cyberspace.

Formal institutions or alliances have yet to be as creative or as powerful in terms of information sharing.


Finally, we'd like to pose the following questions:

Does the world want or need another "clearinghouse" or "supersite" of Latin American information when search engines and customized guides already perform this service?

Will institutions commit time and money to step up their efforts in producing reliable and regular information feeds on the Internet?

And finally, how can we make it easier for individual efforts to receive the necessary funding and support for expansion?


Molly Molloy
New Mexico State University Library

Ron Mader



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