December 18, 2008
Time for the shameless promotion of a cool project run by some of my friends in São Paulo:
PontoLivre is a very exciting new site that combines critical social theory, political engagement, information technology, and digital culture.
If you, like me, find such things totally exciting, get out your portuguese dictionary (or fire up Google Translator) and head on over.
As it happens, this is also a shameless self-promotion since, the top story on the site right now is a transcribed version of a short presentation I did at the PUC-SP back in September. I haven’t had time to translate it into English yet, but I am nonetheless somewhat proud of my gringo-tacular attempt at bringing together the work of the great Karls (Polanyi and Marx) to think about the future of free (as in freedom) and open knowledge.
Kudos to the two brains behind the pontolivre operation, Tiago Soares and Rafael Evangelista, for pulling it all off!
October 26, 2008
Didn’t see this story until after I had posted earlier today. The lede from the Guardian:
Asian and European leaders today called for more international regulation and a stronger role for the International Monetary Fund in response to the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.
No surprise there. All the questions I outline in my post below still apply.
Meanwhile, the story goes on to include at least the second mention I’ve seen that Brazil is considering going to the IMF for funds in response to the crisis.
The problem is there is no attribution for this assertion, which (if it were true) would constitute a major about-face for the Lula government and a big news item in Latin America’s most populous nation and most globally integrated economy.
So, did the author just make it up? I don’t know, but I can’t find any evidence to support his claim in the financial section of Brazil’s most reputable paper, the Folha de Sao Paulo. Similarly, other English language publications, such as the Christian Science Monitor, have run stories suggesting that Brazil is among the best prepared countries to weather the crisis in terms of its cash reserves.
Given the sensitivity of global markets right now, I hope the Guardian editors will consider investigating this rumor before it gets out of control. Bond rating agencies read this kind of stuff and they won’t like it even if it is just an irresponsible slip.
As reported a couple of hours ago by Brazil’s IG News Service via Último Segundo (my translation):
The artist has held the office of Minister [of Culture] since 2003, the year that began Lula’s first term, and he has already prepared to leave the position on more than one occasion. Every time, the president managed to convince Gil to change his mind as well as his post.
Despite considering his term as head of the MinC [Ministry of Culture] as “positive,” Gil lamented that the Commission on Ethics had prevented him from performing live while serving in the government during the past two years. According to him, the presence of a musician in command of the Ministry could have become an “international paradigm.”
“I hope that these four years [have been] important for Brazil and for the world, because many people came in with prejudices about having a musician for a minister,” he noted.
Gil is a beloved icon throughout the country and a passionate defender of Free Culture and Access to Knowledge. Breaking with historical precedent, he dedicated his time at the MinC to creating new programs that supported thousands of small and medium sized cultural projects nationwide.
His departure will undoubtedly raise questions about the future of these projects.
June 21, 2008
I just found out about the possible Brazilian-led challenge to Francis Gurry’s election as the new DG of WIPO a few hours ago.
Here are some interesting quotes (my translations) from news stories linked to by Joff Wild in the story I mentioned earlier.
This from the Agencia Estado coverage:
[Brazil's Foreign Minister, Celso] Amorim, according to sources within his cabinet, admitted that the situation of the Australian [Gurry] could become unsustainable, as his placement could bring about a paralysis within the organization on account of the dispute between wealthy and poor [states].
Brazil, as a result, is inclined to re-open the debate over the vote. However, the chancellor does not exclude the possibility that the new director could come from a third country and not be the Brazilian Graça Aranha. The primary object of Itamaraty [Brazil's Department of State], therefore, would be to guarantee that highest position overseeing the world’s patent system was occupied by someone sympathetic to the positions of emerging countries.
And the Folha de Sao Paulo (syndicated by Verbanet) reports that Gurry incurred the wrath of Amorim and the Lula government on account of his refusal to grant the second position at WIPO to Brazilian DG candidate Jose Graça Aranha (who lost to Gurry by 1 vote). Here’s a couple of good quotes from the story:
After spreading rumors that he would invite José Graça Aranha, who came in second in the voting…Gurry changed tactics. On Saturday, he offered a Brazilian diplomat a position in the third tier of the WIPO directorate, in the first formal attempt to pacify Itamaraty following its controversial nomination.
According to the Folha’s sources, Gurry said to the diplomat that he could not invite Graça Aranha to occupy one of the four vice-directorates of WIPO because he felt that this would give the Brazilian a platform from which he would try to undermine him.
All told, this sounds like a lot of cross-accusation and diplomatic shin-kicking. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that none of it bodes well for Gurry’s ability to secure a strong mandate from a majority of the WIPO member states.
Breaking news: William New at IP Watch reports that Francis Gurry of Australia has just been named the new director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Gurry won by a single vote (!) over Brazil’s José Graça Aranha, signalling that while the widely discredited former director Kamil Idris may be gone, the organization remains divided between those who favor the position of the G8 countries and those who prefer the pro-development leadership of the Brazilian delegation in recent years.
Both Gurry and Graça Aranha were WIPO insiders and both have strong reputations as credible, professional public servants.
Unfortunately, the IP Watch story does not include any additional data on the breakdown of the vote. (At the moment, I’m not sure whether such information can become public).
Earlier today, Ryan and Isabela Bagueros at NorthXSouth published an interview with Marcos Mazoni, the Brazilian public official currently in charge of Free and Open Source Software initiatives, in which he clarifies his vision of the role of the Brazilian state and public sector firms in promoting the FOSS ecosystem.
I wrote this post last week about Mazoni’s recent appointment as chair of the Committee for the Implementation of Free Software.
April 26, 2008
On April 17, Marcos Mazoni, the current director of Brazil’s Federal Data Processing firm (SERPRO) was appointed to head an arcane bureaucratic body: the Technical Committee for the Implementation of Free Software (CISL).
Mazoni replaces Renato Martini, the current president of Brazil’s National Technology Institute (ITI, a small office within the executive branch).
This is big news for Brazil’s Free Software movement. One of the earliest public officials to champion FOSS in the world, Mazoni has earned a widespread reputation as an effective administrator and a skilled manager of FOSS migrations.
Mazoni has an impressive record as a public servant in many of Brazil’s largest state-owned IT firms. After leading some of the earliest public sector FOSS migrations in the late 1990′s at PROCERGS (the IT agency of the state of Rio Grande do Sul), Mazoni did not take a federal position under the first administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Instead, he became president of CELEPAR, the Informatics Company of Parana state, from 2003-2006, transforming the firm into Brazil’s most celebrated and extensive case of FOSS adoption.
Mazoni received his current appointment as SERPRO president at the beginning of Lula’s second term in 2007. Since that time, Mazoni has performed a crucial leadership role among the FOSS supporters within the fragmented and over-sized Brazilian bureaucracy.
As head of the CISL, Mazoni will have oversight of the FOSS migration efforts across dozens of federal ministries, agencies, offices, and firms. He will also have an opportunity to implement new migration strategies and build consensus around the strategic, technical, and financial advantages of FOSS.
Lula’s endorsement of FOSS received world-wide attention during his first term. Since that time, many observers have publicly doubted whether there was any substance to Lula’s pro-FOSS stance. While a number of large-scale migrations did take place during the first term, things slowed down following the departure of Sergio Amadeu, the polemical professor who gained global fame for his radical denunciations of the anti-competitive tactics of proprietary-minded IT firms like Microsoft.
Mazoni’s placement as the head of SERPRO, and now as the head of the CISL signals that Lula is still serious about FOSS. With two years to go before Brazil’s next presidential election, Mazoni will almost certainly have time to make his presence felt.
April 5, 2008
Brazil’s Tribunal Superior Eleitoral will use 430,000 GNU/Linux machines for this year’s election, according to a press release (pt) published on the TSE website (h/t Ada Lemos). Giuseppe Janino, the Tribunal’s secretary of IT, promises that this migration will make the elections more secure and transparent, reducing the potential for ballot rigging and tampering.
This impressive news follows on the heels of a much less promising announcement: it looks like the TSE is trying to ban blogs and just about everything else on the Internet (link is to a portuguese language PDF on the TSE website) from covering the elections. Paula Góes analyzes Brazilian bloggers’ responses to this decision over at Global Voices, concluding that the TSE’s misguided attempt at limiting political speech is basically a disaster that will only generate confusion and resentment.
Ségio Amadeu, the former President of Brazil’s National Technology Institute, bemoaned the decision on his blog.
March 8, 2008
As reported in Intellectual Property Watch on March 4th, the newly formed World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) began its first official meetings this past week in Geneva.
The backstory here has been brewing for years and is fascinating for anyone interested in the politics of global trade and intellectual property:
The proposal to pursue a development agenda at WIPO first emerged in 2004 in a report (PDF) authored by the representatives of Brazil and Argentina. This was one of the first public and institutional challenges to the strict IP regimes that the US and EU had imposed on the Global South through the TRIPS+ agreement, the WTO, and numerous bi-lateral trade agreements. In their proposal, Brazil and Argentina argued that flexible and non-restrictive forms of IP could provide much needed stimulus to innovation, technology adoption, and human capital production for low and middle income countries.
Over the following three years, the Brazilian and Argentine representatives rallied together a coalition of 15 countries behind this agenda, calling themselves “The Friends of Development.” The “Friends” also enjoyed the support of a number of NGO’s and academics who shared their views and contributed to the agenda through the production of ideas, reports, and cooperation in WIPO meetings.
Since Brazil and Argentina’s initial intervention, a non-permanent committee created by the WIPO general assembly has solicited and negotiated proposals on the Development Agenda. These negotiations were contentious and protracted. However, despite resistance from the US, the EU, and private sector representatives, the supporters of the devleopment agenda recently made a big step towards achieving their goals. Last fall, the WIPO general assembly formally adopted the Development Agenda, approving the creation of a permanent committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property. This new committee was charged with implementing 45 proposals (you can download the list here, from another IP-Watch story from September, 2007) immediately beginning in 2008.
The institutionalization of the Development Agenda represents a big turnaround for an arcane and somewhat overlooked global institution that has not much concerned itself with alternatives to rigid approaches to IP. In contrast, many of the proposals made by the “Friends” explicitly or implicitly argued that non-proprietary IP has potential advantages for politically and economically marginalized populations. By contrast, the US representatives emphasized in public statements that this committee brings them a step closer to patent harmonization, a goal that many believe would benefit multinational corporations much more than the world’s poor. Clearly, what the CPID agenda will yield in terms of concrete initiatives, agreements, or treaties remains to be seen.
In creating a permanent committee dedicated to advancing a development agenda and in seeking to extend its authority further into the arena of internet governance, WIPO may take on greater strategic significance in the years to come. The successes of the “Friends” may also spill over into the ongoing development round of negotiations at the WTO.
While I haven’t seen any news yet about the results of this week’s meetings, I will keep an eye on the story and try to post updates. Thanks to the folks at IP Watch (especially William New, the Director and Executive Editor) for their thorough coverage of this issue over the past four years.
AdaDigital put out the news yesterday on the Projeto Software Livre Brasil (PSL-BR) mailing list that representative Walter Pinheiro (PT) from the state of Bahia will be the new president (story in Portuguese) of the federal Science, Technology, Communications and Informatics Commission (Comissão da Ciênça, Tecnologia, Comunicação e Informática or CCTCI). The position had formerly been held by Júlio Semeghini (PSDB-SP). Computerworld Brasil also runs the story here.
Orwellian bureaucratic nomenclature aside, this is big news for those concerned with Brazilian telecommunications and the Brazilian Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Community. Pinheiro has been battling to advance a federal FOSS agenda since back in 1999, when he attended the original meeting of the group that would become the PSL in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. As described in his online bio, he has an extensive background as a telecommunications engineer and manager – qualifications that enabled him to recognize the technical and political possibilities of non-proprietary technologies early on. Since then, he has remained a staunch ally and leader of the FOSS-advocates within the congress, sponsoring numerous legislative attempts to mandate FOSS adoption and democratize Brazil’s crony-ridden telecommunications system.
The big, obvious question is, what powers does the commission wield? I’m not entirely certain on the details yet, but this recent story in the Folha de São Paulo claims they have authority over radio and television spectrum concessions. Furthermore, from the looks of this file (PDF), it appears that the CCTCI (with a numerous contributions from Pinheiro) sponsored the creation of the FUST (or Telecommunications Services Universalization Fund) way back in 1997. Finally passed in 2000, the FUST imposed a 1% tax on telecommunications revenues throughout the country in order to create a restricted fund that could only be used to pay for national-level telecom access improvement projects (e.g. getting internet access into marginalized communities). By 2004, the fund had accumulated over R$3 Billion. This Global Information Society Watch report, authored by RITS founder Carlos Alfonso, says that as of 2007 the FUST held over US$2.8 Billion.
The FUST has long represented a point of contention within the Congress. Basically, it is a political cash cow for whoever gets to determine its disbursement, a fact recognized by both FOSS advocates and proprietary IT interests. As a result, the fund remains largely untouched. While CCTCI – and by extension, Pinheiro – may not hold final authority over FUST, he may use his new position to bring the issue renewed attention and to criticize ongoing private sector attempts to use the fund to advance their own narrow interests.
If nothing else, Pinheiro will certainly utilize his new post to promote the democratization of the telecommunications sector in general. Following the original announcement, Ada posted another story from the Congressional News Service in which Pinheiro described plans to hold “the first annual National Communications Conference” later this year. While events like this happen all the time in Brasilia and should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism, Pinheiro has the connections and the vision to build something bigger.