Dec 6

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Venezuela Open Source

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Bruno Souza and other Brazilian activists, the great work going on in Brazil has been widely talked about. I hadn't heard anything about Venezuelan open source, though, until Jeff Zucker dropped me a line. He'd just returned from a conference there and was blown away by the magnitude of the whole country's focus on free and open source projects. Jeff has kindly written a Radar guest blog entry about what he'd seen and why it should be on your radar. --Nat

Free and Open Source Software in Venezuela

The Third Worldwide Free Knowledge Forum was held last week in Maracaibo, Venezuela bringing together about 500 Venezuelan developers and advocates of "Software Libre" (Free-as-in-Speech Software) as well as speakers from FLOSS projects in Spain, Brazil, Columbia, the U.S. and Mexico. Many of the sessions were similar to what we expect at OSCON—issues like open science, IP; languages like Python, Perl; apps and projects like OpenOffice, Bayonne. But there was also much activity around issues of specific interest to Venezuela including local projects to use FLOSS in social service programs and local efforts to prepare for the upcoming massive migration of public agencies to open source.

The stuff that is happening with "Software Libre" in Venezuela is really mind-boggling. In January the Venezuelan open source law goes into effect, mandating a two year transition to open source in all public agencies. This massive undertaking will involve the training of hundreds of thousands of government employees and migrating of the software that runs not only their public agencies, but also their oil industry (which accounts for 70% of the country's economy and is one of the largest business enterprise in Latin America). They are talking about a huge country-wide move to open source that dwarfs anything I've heard about anywhere else.

This should be on every open source hacker's radar. Venezuala is going to need lots of open source hackers to help "train the trainers" for their migration process. The idea of open software as accumulative knowledge is really emphasized there. Reusability is a key concept. I think we can expect to see many contributions to CPAN, Sourceforge, and other repositories as a result of this move.

A representative of the national office of Intellectual Property remarked, not entirely in jest, that the name of his department should be changed to "Intellectual Prosperity" to shift the focus from ownership of ideas to the accumulation and reuse of ideas for the public benefit. Other attendees gave concrete examples of such benefits—a project supporting development of small FLOSS work-cooperatives to stimulate local economies; projects with Indians and other marginalized groups; projects to take work-flow apps developed for industry and reuse them in municipal governments to increase transparency and efficiency.

High-ranking representatives from half a dozen government agencies attended the Forum, indicating how seriously they take the move to open source. And it's not only public agencies—CanTV, the largest telecom in Venezuela already runs mission-critical processes with Perl.

One of the issues discussed was how to get around resistance to open source, resistance which comes in places those in the U.S. and Europe might not expect. In Venezuela, for example, the universities are often quite conservative and independent. Professors and students described how they had been unable to convince their departments and sysadmins to install open source apps and OSs. The easy answer was to use live CDs, but a longer term solution will require re-education. The general approach advocated at the forum was not to depend on the force of the law, but rather to show the benefits of FLOSS—Software Libre, it's not just the law, it's a good idea.

Jeff Zucker, aka jZed

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Comments: 36

  scot [12.06.05 01:32 PM]

If there were an open-source windows equivalent that was being pushed on windows admins you might be more welcomed. Instead they are getting an opensource UNIX equivalent they simple don't understand.

  Randal L. Schwartz [12.06.05 09:49 PM]

Most end users don't "understand" windows. They know how to point and click and launch Excel (perhaps) and Word (probably) and surf the web. A good distro like Ubuntu will work just fine for that.

  nickpicker [12.07.05 04:02 AM]

"Many of the sessions were similar to what we expect at OSCON—issues like open science"

Reality check:


"Venezuala is going to need lots of open source hackers"

Actually, what Venezuela is looking for is establishing a police-state that puts the Chinese "Big Wall" to shame. But they sure figured out how to win the popularity contest by luring gullible open-source advocates like your ilk into believing that this is all about some greater cause. And, sure, the former Eastern European satellite states like Romania and Bulgaria - that is, before the fall of the USSR - also never ran out of Western apologists who marvelled at their "advanced public health systems" and "peaceful expression of art in a non-capitalistic system" while ignoring all human-rights issues.

Yeah, I know, I know - "these are some other issues, let's talk about software", right?

Fifth columnists you are, indeed.

  standa [12.07.05 07:04 AM]

nickpicker, a pathetic post. You must work for Microsoft.

  BrianR [12.07.05 07:41 AM]

Reality check:

The US is already a police state and just as guilty of human rights violations.


Now that I know this am I going to hate the US and deny that Open Source software can help her people?


"Venezuela is looking for is establishing a police-state that puts the Chinese "Big Wall" to shame."

Why should we throw accusations at the cost of all the good things we can do by making software free? Just because a country has problems doesn't mean we shouldn't help it's people.

  nickpicker [12.07.05 07:55 AM]

You won't believe how predictable that reply was.

But I get the point.

Human Rights Watch + Amnesty International -> Microsoft shill

And thanks for reminding me about what is wrong with you guys. Mind you, I'm involved in a handful of open-source projects. But never I want to be in cahoots with dictators who label themselves "friend of open-source" only to make dimwits like you feel inflamed when one points out their hypocrisy and ill intentions.

  Jeff Zucker [12.07.05 08:51 AM]

I've spent a month in Venezuela on two occasions and corresponded with people who live there over a period of many years. I've also visited many third world countries and seen extreme poverty first hand. Extreme poverty is a complex issue calling for complex solutions. Does Chavez have the perfect solution? probably not, no one does. Has he made mistakes? probably so, most people do. But he is not a dictator, he is the freely elected president of the country and he has won six rounds of elections and recalls which have been declared fair elections by outside observers. I can say that the people I met at the Forum, both inside and outside government are, with no doubt in my mind, people who care about their country and want to use Open Source to make things better for the people of the country. I am concerned about the Human Rights Watch reports and I will be watching and hoping that the areas they are concerned about are addressed. However I am also concerned about the 85% of Venezuelans who live in poverty and think that Chavez represents at the very least, a new approach. Since none of the old approaches have done anything but make matters worse, I don't see how anything but a new approach has even a chance of working. I don't think that throwing around simplistic terms like "dictator", "communist", "fifth columnist", "terrorist", etc. can do anything but obscure the issues. Now "microsoft shill", that's a different matter, get out the firing squad! :-)

  Anonymous [12.07.05 08:59 AM]

That's ridiculous. Just because the (democratically elected, I shall say) venezuelan president is not following highly capitalistic tendencies, that doesn't make him a dictator. On the contraire, the perception many countries have of Mr. Bush is that of a dictator (for allowing torture, lobbying of economical interests over well-being of the citizens, etc).

  scot [12.07.05 09:24 AM]


I wasn't talking about windows users, i was talking about seasoned windows admins that have made it their profession. People that do understand exactly one operating system really well. I believe until they have an open source equivalent they will fight for their jobs, tooth and nail as it were.

  Ihar `Philips` Filipau [12.07.05 10:01 AM]

Good Luck Venezulla! And let's hope you successed on your mission.

P.S. And actually I see this move as 100% capitalistic. Just try to imagine developing country having no problems reporting that it has 0% piracy on software market??? China with all its money reserves cannot boast something like that.

  dennis [12.07.05 10:57 AM]

Oh, but Chavez is raising taxes on U.S. oil companies and giving the money to poor people...he must be a commie dictator!

  anonymous [12.07.05 11:32 AM]

I live in Venezuela and work in a university. We (the network admin) had been using and advocating FOSS for over ten years. So the depiction of universities as opossed to foss is inacurate at best and probably politically motivated. And politics is the main factor in the argument pro/against goverment-mandated transition to open source software.

What I perceive as a problem with the free software law (yes, I read it) is that reflects a lack of understanding about the magnitude of the change, and the difficulty of a full migration. Is not the desktop software with the office suite that I perceive as the biggest challenge. Is the (for example) specialized geological modelling software used for oil prospecting, that is sold by one or two companies worldwide and is propietary. That is the kind of application for which its users (within the oil company) has to have a clear plan for migration to foss in a two-year period. And there are not enough local resources to be devoted to that kind of development and not enough interest in the worldwide community to produce a competitive application. And is not only programmers that are needed, is geologists, mathematicians, modelling experts, and so on. So the alternatives are grim for users of specialized, mission-critical software.

This push for foss is an all-or-nothing thing and I fear the end result will be "nothing" or worse, a move to repeal/ignore the law that will set a bad precedent for future deployment of foss on a wide scale for the rest of the world.

I wish the goverment goal would have been more modest and/or on a longer timeframe, like actively encouraging the use of foss via tax breaks, subsidies and training programs. That would prove more useful in the long term.

  Bruce Perens [12.07.05 11:35 AM]

At GUADEC in 2004, I debated Senator Villanueva regarding the Open Source bill he had authored for the nation of Peru. My contention is that there should be a level playing field upon which Free Software and proprietary can compete upon their merits. Of course, the rights granted by Open Source licensing are very significant merits, and in most cases Free Software would win - given a level playing field.

In addition, there are applications where Open Standards are a must - especially public documents and the interface to government. The Massachussets Open Document approach is the correct way to deal with this problem - it establishes a level playing field through Open Standards. Companies should also insist on Open Standards without royalties or discriminatory licensing for the file formats and intercommunication protocols of programs they buy. This would allow interoperation and healthy competition that would drive prices down and quality up as well as establish a level playing field for Open Source and proprietary.

I still think that preference laws are the wrong way to go. But it's a fact that most of the world has preference laws that work in favor of proprietary software and against Open source - like software patenting, DMCA, etc., and there is no level playing field today.

Perhaps people in poverty stricken third-world nations need preference laws simply to offset the power of entrenched first-world monopolies. But I keep thinking that the end still doesn't justify the means.

Bruce Perens

  Jeff Zucker [12.07.05 11:47 AM]

Bruce Perens brings up some good points. I should clarify that the law applies to government agencies, not to citizens and that there is a specific clause in the law allowing exceptions when proprietary software is the only realistic alternative.

  Jeff Zucker [12.07.05 11:53 AM]

To the anonymous poster who works at a Venezuelan university: I may have overstated my point about resistance in the universities, I certainly didn't mean to imply that all universities in Venezuela are resistant to FOSS. I think your point about the magnitude of the change is well taken.

  Lino Ramirez [12.07.05 12:07 PM]

"Venezuela is going to need lots of open source hackers to help "train the trainers" for their migration process". This is a fact. Venezuela is going to need a lot of help with the migration to free and open source software. That is the main point here. People interested in helping this country become technologically independent should keep their eyes and ears open for when the opportunity of helping arise.

About what is behind this movement, well it is hard to know all the implications but the one that is clear is the technological independence. It is hard for a developing country to full develop if they are tied to what corporations decide regarding the technologies they use. At the same time, we have to understand that this is not something that the Venezuelan government invented. Similar initiatives are already in place in Brazil and other South American countries (Argentina, Chile, Peru, etc.). The main difference with Venezuela, I guess, is that in Venezuela they are trying to do it all at once (almost). This is why the will require a lot of help.

About the human rights issues, this is something that everybody must keep an eye on to help improve the situation. But again, this is something that is not a Venezuelan only problem. I have seen violations of human rights in different places included my beloved Canada. Therefore, it is important to keep our guards up fighting against these issues in Venezuela, Latin America, and every single country in the World.

Again, the main issue here is trying to help a developing country become technologically independent. This is something we should all aim for.

  hair-splitter? [12.07.05 03:32 PM]

Although arguments of technological independence are often used, it may be interesting to note what the venezuelan govt actually uses FOSS for, on a daily basis, so ... just the facts:

It is so easy for almost anyone to throw together a LAMP stack, that it has given birth to extreme perversions like the Tascon list or the Maisanta list, both tools used to execute important past and present political purges.

For example, the Tascon list contains over 3 million names of opponents of President Chavez in the August 2004 referendum and was used by the govt to summarily fire hundreds of thousands of venezuelans.

Today the function of this list has been inherited by the Maisanta list, a windows application that records the whole REP (electoral roll of over 12 million people) with other secret information such as how people voted, so that anyone (it's use is so blatant that the cd itself is sold on street corners in downtown Caracas for about $2 or $3) can get a complete profile of anybody with their identity card number: name, address, if they voted, how they voted, if they got money from the govt, if they signed against the president and so on.

Today these shameful tools built upon FOSS establish extreme political discrimination throught the country.

Many of us here are keeping our fingers crossed in the hope that the FOSS community is not headed towards propping up an orwellian style dictatorship in Venezuela.

  Edmundo Carmona [12.07.05 07:17 PM]

I wouldn't have believed a venezuela thread would make such a buzz.

I'm a venezuelan computer engineer. I work for a public hospital in maracaibo. I didn't show up at the meeting (and I'm sorry. I had work to do...but that's not a good excuse anyway).

The issues you are trying to deal with are so huge, you'll never make it in a blog post comment. I'll try to make a short addition, though:

I, as a linux advocate here in venezuela, find it incredibly healthy for our government to try to standardize on free software. However, keep in mind it's "plain old venezuela" we're talking about here... and old costums take time to get rid of.

I bet there's more than a single instance of an unlicensed version of RHEL or SLES working around there (not that I've seen one... but I was borned and raised here).

There's also the problem that deals with skills set. Are there enough skilled linux developers/integrators/administrators/and-so-forth here that will be able to migrate stuff to a FOSS based architecture? That remains to be seen. Keep also in mind that our government has implemented (not officially, let's make it clear) a policy of discrimination based on politic preference (not that previous governments weren't like that, but that's what there is) that reduces the available workforce for this laudable task.

There's also the corruption problem (which is one of the very biggest problems of my dearest country). Is it really gonna be cheaper to go on FOSS after all "interested parties" have made their respective addition (substraction will be a better word to use in this context :-)) to the switching costs? I doubt it.

There are far more issues to deal with for sure.... but let's be optimistic and think that a day will come when we'll be free (technologically). I'm eager to see that day.

  RD [12.08.05 07:58 AM]

I'm also a Venezuelan

I saw the Tascon List with my own eyes and I couldn't believe it but it is true. So, the Maisanta List (Which I heard before but I don't see it yet) is also true.

(My personal information is there, by the way)

But is not fault of FOSS that these political tools exists. I'm a LAMP programmer and I use it every day and I don't work for the government.

I think that will be very difficult to acomplish these deadlines by the government, and even if I like FOSS, I agree with Mr. Perens: I think that Open Source must prevail by competition and not by imposition.

  ticotek [12.08.05 09:44 AM]

Just to get make it clear, I am all for FLOSS. I did my economics thesis in Venezuela about the effects of this move in regards to the welfare of the citizens. While my conclusion was that the government should enforce Open Standards on all information the deals with it (OpenDocument, XML, etc), and only required a FLOSS license for software it funds to develop (specifically a BSD license), I still agree that we are better off with the current plans.

BUT, please take into consideration that this is a completly political decision. The governments officials arguments for the push are mostly related to: not to use software form the empire, and to protect ourself from the CIA. And if the Government is so keen of FLOSS, who doesn't it require the electoral electronic machines to run it? (They don't even share the source with third parties for audits).

So while I truly believe in the good intentions of those that went to the above forum, and of many programers here, I am sure that the net effect of how this is going to go into effect is going to be messy and corrupt. Because is a lot easier to make a shady deal with VenBuntu (a imaginary company that recompiles Ubuntu with a new logo), than with Microsoft or SAP.

  Jeff Zucker [12.08.05 12:36 PM]

Ticotek, thanks for your thoughful posting. I think your concern about Venezuelan-style corruption is entirely warranted. I think, however there is also a US-style corruption to worry about -- the kind of corruption that is shown when Disney, Microsoft, RIAA, etc. use the force of big capital in combination with government influence to impact IP laws worldwide; the kind of corruption that results from a revolving door of employees between government and firms like Haliburton and SAIC who blur the distinction between policy, technical support, and plain old profit. Can a government ever be free if its entire workings are locked in to the software of a particular powerful commercial interest? Adopting FOSS does not automatically make a government free of corruption, but at least with FOSS, there is no lock-in to a single corporate vendor. If "VenBuntu" is found to be corrupt, you can just fire 'em and have someone else take over the code. If you fire Microsoft, there is no code to take over. With FOSS, there is at least the possibility that code paid for with public monies can be reused for public benefit.

  David Björklund [12.08.05 04:50 PM]

Now that there seem to be some Venezuelian people participating in this discussion I have som questions that maybe someone of you could answer...

First, what distribution will all those people use, will it be the same distribution on all computers?

Second, will they use KDE or Gnome?

  Jose Rey [12.09.05 07:52 AM]

I am part of a team who beleives that the migration to FLOSS is a big step, and have lots of issues to be solved.

We belive that somenthing has to be done to simplify the environment of this scenario, and we are proposing a common infrastructure, that is a distribution, so support, training and development could be easier and simpler.

Since the State can't afford to be fully dependent on any group of individuals, we aim to a community oriented distro as the base, and will include all the necesary modifications for our needs.

This will include, all developments made for government agencies, available from a repository.

We have choosed Debian as our mother distro for some reasons, and our intent is to be as much compatible as possible, to allow our effort to go back to Debian, and to benefit from developments for this OS.

We'll probably provide the GNOME desktop as default, but will support KDE, since all the packages are available for Debian.

I have make a presentation of this points in the following URL:


It is in spanish only, sorry.

  Jose Rey [12.09.05 07:57 AM]

By the way I forgot to include the wiki for the National Distro movement is at:


Again in spanish only.

  seeing-eye-dog [12.10.05 06:27 AM]

From ticotek's post above at December 8, 2005 09:44 AM

The governments officials arguments for the push are mostly related to: not to use software form the empire, and to protect ourself from the CIA. And if the Government is so keen of FLOSS, who doesn't it require the electoral electronic machines to run it? (They don't even share the source with third parties for audits).

The official reasons for the use of FOSS by the Venezuelan government reads like a paranoid, politically finger-pointing raving rant that doesn't quite ring true to me ... so much so, that as quoted poster says, they (yes ... they ... the government runs the elections too) steadfastly refuse to consider the use FOSS on voting machines, let alone properly audit existing source.

My cynical take on this is that the use of FOSS will allow a select few government officials an opportunity to effect some pocketable "savings" while keeping in step with the aforesaid presidential arguments, in other words it'll be "business as usual", Latin American style.

I hope that even though Chavez is seriously aiming at remaining in power for eternity, the idea of using FOSS won't be chucked out the window, just because he voiced them first, should eternity ever fall short.

  Eugene [12.10.05 12:05 PM]

Do you really think that open source is what Venezuaela needs nowadays?

  marginal-note [12.10.05 02:21 PM]

Venezuala ... Venezulla ... Venezuelian ... Venezuaela

Egads folks, the bleedin' country's name is VENEZUELA dammit!!!! Can't anyone spell anymore?

  ticotek [12.12.05 08:24 AM]

Jeff, regarding: "Adopting FOSS does not automatically make a government free of corruption, but at least with FOSS, there is no lock-in to a single corporate vendor."

Point taken, and yes, I agree with you. All my whining revolves around the fact that I think FLOSS adoption in Venezuela is a good policy, taken for the wrong reasons.

And for those wondering why some venezuelan geeks don't get their act together and start to take advantage of this policy that should benefit smaller developers. My experience is that because I signed a recall request towards the current president, I'm not even considered for any government sponsored project.

  "an invitation in your mail" [12.13.05 02:17 PM]

Do you really think that open source is what Venezuaela needs nowadays?

Posted by: Eugene at December 10, 2005 12:05 PM

Yes, Eugene, Venezuela, and for that matter, any nation, developing or not, will find the extraordinary reserves of FLOSS extremely useful ground upon which to build applications that just work(tm) in an easily understandable way as well as providing the basis for an education for all in the years to come, as well as being a great equalizer amongst peoples and nations.

It saddens me to see cruel govts (Chavez's being one of many today) misappropriate the technology, bribing a collaborationist-minded sector of society to create tools with which to oppress political dissenters.

You are all kindly invited to see such a tool in action. Please visit the (in)famous maisanta list website at http://www.maisantalist.com, where you can download the actual application (windows only) itself, install it (about 3.5 gigabytes worth of space on disk needed) and play with it at your leisure, all the while trying to picture yourselves as one of those on the thin end of the wedge.

If the primal, brutish Chavez govt is capable of creating a tool such as this, just think how much more capable a tool built by a modern European or American govt could be ...

  Anonymous [12.15.05 06:44 AM]

Someone commented about taking the right decision for the wrong motivations. The motives, as a lot of things you'll hear about Venezuela is not true.

The proponets of the migration to FOSS are members of the hackers community, between which you can count to Felipe Perez Marti. Felipe Perez is an economist who has studied the public goods. His work lead him close to the FOSS community. He was Secretary years ago, and carried with him the idea of an electronic free(libre) goverment.

The law was developed with the aid of the members of the free software organizations in Venezuela. Its motivations are not the caricature that have been told.

The law covers only the use of software inside the goverment. It doesn't ban the propietary software; it is allowed if there is not an free alternative. It's motto is "as much free software as possible, as much privative software as necessary".

  Crafter [01.11.06 12:49 PM]

I find the argument that because there is a political unfolding in the country that some people have issues with, then it means that they should go and buy proprietary software like Windows and such, hard to swallow.

Even citizens of Venezuela (including) their governmemt, are citizens of the World, and as such are granted the same freedom to use Open Source software that you and I have.

Jeff spoke about the poverty that he observed in the country. Now if using open source can help reduce this, then hip-hip-hurray!

Nobody speaks the billions that the government spends on software licences. If there are viable alternatives, I say go for it.

  antiimperialist [04.14.06 08:13 AM]

"By the way I forgot to include the wiki for the National Distro movement is at:


Again in spanish only.

Posted by: Jose Rey at December 9, 2005 07:57 AM"

It looks as though you have to have a user number to read anything, and there is no way to sign up?

  Anonymous [06.05.06 12:22 PM]

I hope many other goverments will follow in the footsteps of Venezuela!

  Odunusi [11.20.07 11:01 AM]

We like to meet you in this upcoming Venezuela Open Source i believe this conference coming on December 9, 2007.

We are from nigeria to join you in Venezuela Open Source which coming on December, 9th 2007

pls we repect your reply on email:


  karlzt [08.30.08 01:09 PM]

is venezuela no venezuala

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