Latin America's Information Revolution:
Myth Into Reality?

Kalee Sprague
School of Library & Information Studies
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720


In the last decade, there have been many predictions made about the economic and social benefits that Latin America[1] and other developing regions of the world will experience as a result of the advent of the information age. Like many of the import substitution programs of recent years, information technology is portrayed as the economic catalyst that will propel Latin America forward to a new position of strength in the world economy. Great social changes are predicted with increased participation in government and policy making processes within these countries. As has happened in the past, those from the dominant cultures, especially the West, portray "technology as a kind of panacea for a multitude of the world's problems"[2]. These assertions about the economic and social benefits facing developing countries, and Latin America in particular, as a result of information policies reveals the nature of the Myth of the Information Age.

What is the Myth of the Information Age? According to Langdon Winner, it is not "understanding, enlightenment, critical thought, timeless wisdom, or the content of a well educated mind," but simply the accumulation and broadcast of mass quantities of data[3]. This plethora of choices and voices amount to one more source of confusion in the modern world. According to Herbert Schiller, it is corporate America's technological response to a recent loss of global market position, a marketing scheme selling a new product which has been "foisted on the public as a technological blessing and has been given the mystifying but reassuring label of `the information society'."[4] According to Baudrillard, the information age is nothing more than a continuation of the communications structure seen in the mass media of the last century. In effect, it is a cultural wrecking ball, smashing its way through developed and developing countries alike, pursuing its "relentless destructuring of the social."[5]

The lure of the Information Age, however, lies not in portents of social disaster, but in portents of social and economic revolution. The possibilities of balancing world economic power, and increasing social participation of the masses are apparent in any system which purports to bring knowledge to the nations and peoples that have heretofore not had access to it. Mattelart outlines well the appeal of the Information Age:

If information were free, everyone could have access to it. If information gave power, and were within the grasp of everyone, then power would be in the hands of everyone. If the planeterization of information engendered interdependence, then there would no longer be any risk that power could be used by some to dominate others.[6]

The information myth is dangerous because it contains scenarios that are at the same time possible and optimistic in a period of recession, rampant unemployment, and crime in many countries. What it does not portray, however, are the very real barriers that block realization of those visions. The power of myth lies in its ability "to distort, not to make disappear."[7] Thus, Latin American society is inundated with images of a social revolution, while images of cultural domination and economic monopolization are left quietly to the side.

The World Bank, in a working paper by Nagy Hanna, propagates the myth of an economic information salvation for developing countries. Entitled The Information Technology Revolution and Economic Development, the study is none too subtle in its unconditional backing of the new "techno-economic paradigm... transforming and creating all types of industries and services."[8]. The agency which has brought economic dependence and destabilizing austerity programs to the developing regions of the world now brings forth a new `development' plan.

The paper correctly describes the situation of many developing countries as existing in a state of "information poverty" resulting in an "information gap, a competitive gap, and a development gap."[9] The list of problems which arise from these gaps is extensive. Topping the list are the factors which are of main concern to the World Bank, such as "planning without facts, unreliable information on external debt and poverty, poor information support to top decision-makers, inadequate financial control."[10] These items listed in the report portray the image of a region whose economic and social problems could be alleviated if only it had access to enough information.

While the factors which have contributed to this state of information poverty are conveniently left unmentioned, a sales pitch is begun to convince the reader that by adopting World Bank-assisted technology programs, the gaps will disappear. A wide range of programs fostered by the World Bank and its members from the industrialized world are cited in the report as examples of the benefits of new technologies. A cited program in Bolivia illustrates the general emphasis the World Bank places on the economic and bureaucratic benefits of information technology. Termed an "Economic Management Support Operation," the program is designed to "improve management of the public investment program, support decentralized operation of regional development corporations, and strengthen the Ministry of Planning."[11] Apparent advantages that will trickle down to the poor as a result of such programs, according to the World Bank report, will be the "empowering of the poor" by providing "them and their organizations with basic information, skills, and opportunities to actively participate in their own development."[12] Problems of illiteracy and poverty are never directly addressed in the report, however. The myth assumes that a radical change to society will be the natural result of the institutionalization of information technology. According to Barthes, such assumptions are what make myth such a powerful force, "not because its intentions are hidden... but because they are neutralized." [13] How the social benefits of information technology will come about, of course, remains a mystery, but the myth is in place and the `sell' begins.

Sheldon Annis, in his article "Giving Voice to the Poor" focuses less on the economic benefits of the information age, and more on the benefits to social relations in Latin America.[14] His main premise is that the advent of information technology is producing a more participatory system of government in the region. Annis maintains that the advent of electronic information has "profound implications for the process of democratization."[15] In this scenario, the poor are the greatest beneficiaries of new communications technologies, providing them with a means of political activism not previously possible. Despite the fact that the poor are, indeed, "more numerous and poorer than ever before," through the intervention of communication technology, they "are connecting with each other and the outside world."[16] Interestingly enough, Annis does not maintain that one of the benefits of technology will be the end of poverty. Instead, he maintains that it will provide them with a way to fight for justice in certain situations previously characterized by severe oppression.

How will this justice be realized? Annis maintains that new information technologies will make it possible for all social strata to take part in communication that is not simply characterized by a one way flow of information. Because the poor "are increasingly able to manipulate the media, instead of just receiving messages"[17], they will be able to voice complaints and raise questions about important issues previously ignored by the ruling elite. Annis cites several examples of what he believes indicate the revolution that will be seen in the social structure of many Latin American countries as a result of electronic information. However, the author, himself, qualifies his jubilance by stating that "even if poverty is no better, at least it is different." [18] Like the World Bank report, Annis's article does not address ways in which imbalances in the world marketplace and rigid social structures in many Latin American countries will play a part in the success or failure of the information revolution. Again, the myth of the information revolution takes hold and distorts the picture of the future, focusing on the indications of promise, and leaving the institutionalized problems of class struggle endemic in Latin America blurred and on the edge.

Reality Behind the Myth

If, as Barthes has said, the function of myth is to distort, not to make disappear, then what aspects of the information debate have been left out of the discussions by Hanna and Annis? A look at the role past communications have played in Latin America may give a more balanced view of the possible effects of information technology on the region. What factors have played a role in that history? Latin American culture, dating back to the Spanish invasion in the fifteenth century, has been greatly influenced by forces of colonialism and immense cultural diversity. Existing alongside these forces has been a tradition in which the control, direction of flow, and content of information has been dominated by the West. Structural problems endemic to Latin America strongly influence the dispersion of information, and pose serious barriers to the mythical democratizing influence of information technology. Centralization and rigid social structures, unemployment, illiteracy, and lack of resources available to grass roots organizations all contribute. The result is a systemic opposition to any kind of a real "free flow of information"[19]

The extreme centralization of many Latin American societies is the single greatest factor influencing the flow of information in the region. This centralization is expressed physically and socially, creating technological as well as political barriers to mass participation in the information age. Geographically, most capitals in Latin America are situated where the Spanish and their European counterparts had easy access to ports and railway lines designed to export the resources of the region. In many cases these cities are the only place in the country where a criss-crossing of phone lines provides access to a communications network.[20] Thus, information access is concentrated in the commercial and political centers populated by the elite. Rural areas, on the other hand, have meager physical resources, and are thus cut off from telecommunications, leaving them dependent on the press and the local elite for news and information.

This physical structure reinforces the rigid social structure existing in many Latin American countries. Dictatorships and nominal democracies in totalitarian states have created a situation in which information and resources flow from the top down. As a result of this structure, any benefit of communication technologies, such as information which might empower a grass roots group to lobby for an issue, is received more or less by accident. Information is concentrated at the elite level, and then "trickles down haphazardly to the marginal masses although they are not the major focus."[21] As a result of the lack of accurate and timely information, "direct knowledge of reality therefore becomes atomized at the grass roots level,"[22] making political activism, and any true form of democracy, difficult.

Even by the time the information reaches the local level, much of it is still inaccessible. For those who can read and write in Spanish, high unemployment rates, precluding the purchase of a radio or a newspaper for many of the poor, remove accessibility to what is being broadcast and distributed on a local level. As Mattelart states, "What does the impact of computerization mean, for example, in countries where over 40% of the active population is already outside the circuit of regular work?"[23] High rates of illiteracy and the domination of native American languages in many rural areas make the issue of accessing the current meager sources of information obsolete. The combination of these factors in the beginning of the 1980's meant that four out of every ten Latin Americans remained without access to mass communications.[24] Can computers really provide access to those for whom newspaper, radio, and television were out of reach?

The Impact of Radio and Television

Mass communications in the first half of the twentieth century established US. cultural supremacy in Latin America. That supremacy served two main functions, playing a pacifying role within the newly created countries of Latin America, and creating a highly profitable culture of consumerism. By offering to provide equipment and programming, the US. was able to step in and dominate Latin American communications. Control over broadcast and print was wrested from the local level, leaving Latin American governments without sovereignty over their own communications resources. As a result, Latin America currently is the only region of the underdeveloped world where the mass media are primarily privately owned, where the State carries little weight in communication, and where advertisers and wire services virtually control the market. Within this commercial structure, the United States represents the system's main producer and largest provider of news and programming[25].

Unfortunately, cultural biases inherent in the region allowed the US. to take up the role of a new colonial power in Latin America. The government and business interests in the United States lost no time in molding a population ripe for consumerism.

The introduction of radio in the 1930's, and of television in the 1950's, reinforced a pattern of information consumption first constructed in colonial times. From the time of the conquest, printed information was seen as a way of keeping up with European culture, not as a way of learning about and integrating into the local environment. For example, a published survey of private libraries in colonial Peru showed that "most readers saw books as a way to stay in touch with European social and intellectual trends. There was a noticeable lack of information on Latin America and its pre-Colombian civilizations."[26] The role which first radio then television played in the society of twentieth century Latin America was similar.

Newly independent after 1928, many of the countries of Latin America had yet to develop a national identity, and mass media gave them the opportunity to do so. The fact that US. media virtually controlled all forms of mass communication greatly influenced the nature of that national identity. US. programming and news broadcasts sold a culture with values far different from the ones existing in Latin America. One of those values was the idea of nationhood. Out of the turbulence and divisiveness of a colonial past and a war for independence, "from the 1930's until the end of the 1950's the mass media in Latin America were a crucial factor in mediating the conflict between the state and the masses and in ultimately incorporating them as a `people' into a `nation'."[27] Beginning in the 1970's, television took over this role played by radio as the great pacifying force in Latin America. Indeed, television has played a much more effective role as both cultural homogenizer and pusher of the drug consumerism. Equal to none in its neutralizer and escapist role, television "constitutes an available channel for the implantation of alien values" insuring the "dissemination of values, concepts, and stereotypes from the dominant culture."[28]

Radio and television weren't the only forms of mass media to experience US. dominance. The press in Latin America has been, and continues to be dominated by US. influence. According to Reeves, Latin American press gets about 50% of its content from two international news agencies, United Press International and Associated Press, and another 10% from Reuters and Agence France-Presse[29]. That leaves less than half of the content with an indigenous origin. In many cases, countries in Latin America know much more about what is happening in the US. than they know about what is happening with their neighbors. Even more disturbing is the fact that Latin Americans "are obliged to receive news of themselves through the distortion mechanism of the four major western news agencies."[30] Given the bias of American news media with regard to Latin America, it is little wonder the instability that abounds in the region since it is daily reinforced by the mass media.

With a newly created market to the south, US. communications conglomerates and advertising companies lost no time in taking advantage of the new territory. As Schiller notes, "since the early days of radio, the American informational system has been more appropriately understood as a marketing system because it is in this capacity that the press, radio, and television are most heavily utilized."[31] The difficult task of creating consumers out of an entire continent was portrayed as part of the necessary development of the region. In concordance with this "new developmentalism, the `masses' had to be reconstituted as a consuming mass even if only... of newspapers, television, and radio receivers."[32] The sale of mass media in the name of the myth of development has been a very successful enterprise, indeed. Radio currently covers 100% of the Latin American continent. [33] Moreover, since the early 1950's, Latin America has acquired "more than 60 million television sets, nearly one per family."[34] Both objects have come to represent culture for "2/3 of Latin America's population,"[35] and have become status symbols.

US. exporters to Latin America, quickly aware of the "enormous potential of the radio as an advertising medium,"[36] began inundating the airwaves with promotional programs. This tradition was carried over to the television. By the late 1970's, transnational businesses were spending "an average of 65 per cent of their advertising budget on radio and TV. advertising." [37]

This tradition of advertising continues on today, and the enthusiasm of the marketing industry hasn't been dampened by the passing of 60 years. The July 5, 1993 edition of Mediaweek featured a story whose headline read "With a Consumer Base of 268 Million, Latin America's Potential is Serious."[38] Furthermore, the culture of consumerism that has been propagated by all this propaganda has taken hold indigenously. Annis points out that "advertising professionals and public relations firms operate throughout Latin America. No serious political candidate runs a presidential campaign without media consultants"[39] Not only is Latin America being sold a way of life, the elite of the region is in turn selling that way of life to the masses.

The New World Information Order and UNESCO

Thirty years after the introduction of radio into Latin America, countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America formed a group to try to break the Western domination of the media. Called the Council of Non-Aligned Nations, the group came together to discuss issues of domination and possible methods for escaping that domination. This movement captured the attention of the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) in the 1960's. After hearings considering the nature of information flows on a world-wide basis, UNESCO, together with the council for Non-Aligned Nations, issued a treatise supporting the New International Information Order. Besides regulatory measures governing transborder data flow, the NWIO promoted concepts of national sovereignty within the communications spectrum.

These early attempts to wrest local control of communications from the United States and Europe were centered around three main points. The first contention was that the flow of information world wide occurred in a grossly unbalanced fashion. In general, information flows occurred from North to South, and from West to East, with little flow occurring in either of the other directions. The second point of contention centered around the fact the content of the information reaching the South and East was both subversive and beyond the control of local authorities. The Non-Aligned Nations were all too aware of the messages of consumerism and false capitalism that were being foisted on their populations, but were powerless to stop it. Most had signed agreements ceding control of programming for stations and other communications network in return for technology or yet another large unrepayable loan. The third point of contention, and the main theme underriding the first two points, was that of control.

The United States controlled, and controls to this day, the flow of information in a number of ways. The most obvious method of control lies in the fact that most information originates in the United States, and is therefore subject to the censorship, egocentrism, and cultural assumptions of the editors and owners of the transnational media conglomerates. Sometimes this control of content takes place on a level much less subtle than that of cultural imperialism. In the case of Radio Martí, and some of the other programs which have been blasted at the Cuban, Dominican Republic, and Haitian borders, content and communication continues to be used as an outright propaganda tool designed to influence the political situations of these countries. Other times, control takes place on a local level. Many countries, in return for monetary and technological favors, have signed agreements to put in place the US. `free-flow of information' doctrine. Basically, this doctrine assumes that any information originating from a local government owned or controlled source, is not `free' information. In order for information to be free, it must originate from a privately owned press, TV., or radio station. In many cases, conveniently, the communications media in a country are owned by US. media subsidiaries. The result of this situation was complete US. dominance of both the content and the technology within Latin America, as well as without. The NWIO attempted to create sovereignty for nations as well as identified areas in which the flow and content of information needed to be improved.

The NWIO, from the outset, was not greeted positively by Europe and North America. By the 1970', that dislike had grown into a hatred, and "the governments and major media interests of most of the advanced capitalist countries were actively opposed to the information order."[40] Despite active opposition, UNESCO, in a surprisingly independent move, ordered a study termed the Mcbride Report to investigate the nature of international information flows, and to address the inequalities in the system. The study, in which "1,000 people in 100 countries" were interviewed during 1977-1979, confirmed the complaints of the Non-aligned nations.[41] Although the study contains flaws and inconsistencies, it courageously outlines the power of the transnational media conglomerates; the one-way flow of media product and information from New York, Los Angeles, Washington, London, and Paris to the rest of the world; the excessive commercialization of that flow; and the need for protection of national cultural sovereignty in the face of the cultural avalanche from the West.[42]

The McBride report came under immediate attack from the information control centers of the world. Coverage of the report in US. media was designed to discredit the report as "indistinguishable from a program of totalitarianism."[43] Credit was never given to the meritous parts of the report, and acknowledgment of the US. communications domination was never given. The ultimate result of the report and the open-minded attitude of UNESCO was the withdrawal of the United States, along with all its funding, from the organization.

The NWIO, for all intents and purposes, is currently a dead or at the least dormant concept. The advent of the radio, the "free" press, and the television did nothing in themselves to encourage greater participation of Lesser Developed Countries in the international flow of information. The New Information Order, with its declaration of intent, and UNESCO, with its report designed to address the injustices of international Information control, failed in their attempts to change the balance of power in the Information arena. As Mattelart asserts, "affirming that the re-definition of the relations between the big industrialized countries and the Third World is moving massively in a philanthropic direction will be to err on the side of idealism"[44] How will computers and networks do what previous technology and political activism has failed to do?

Information Technology in Latin America

Information technology and informatics in Latin America, in their present incarnation, appear to be reinforcing the old patterns of dependence established with the radio, press, and television communication systems. The Information Highway, and the Information Age which it will characterize, is currently controlled by the United States in much the same way that previous media technologies were controlled. Once more there is a one-way flow of information from the North to the South, and from the West to the East. Maintenance of the networks over which this information flows is firmly in the hands of the industrialized countries, especially the US. and France. Access to the networks is controlled by countries producing the technology, such as computers and optic fiber cables, who make choices about which equipment will be available to developing countries, and for how much. Content is controlled as well. The majority of the organized databases available through for-pay services and for free through the Net are created and maintained in the US., with a North American cultural bias inherent in the media forms of the past. In short, the "`natural' operation of the communication system leads to concentration of the industry in a structure in which a small number of big media have economic, technological, and market advantages."[45] Where in this cyclical reinforcement of domination is the much heralded Age of Information, in which participation of the masses will result in the "democratization" of the world?

Although the players are different, the systems of domination and cultural imperialism seen with the radio and television industries in Latin America can be seen again in the systems establishing themselves around information technology. The means of production for most information technology systems are firmly in the hands a few industrialized nations, "and the United States and Japan in particular."[46] This trend is significant in that the West is no longer the sole player on the international communications scene. With the paper tiger companies of Asia awakening to new positions of dominance in the world, and multinational companies proliferating in the West, new bridges between East and West are being built that are outside the direct control of their respective governments. The producers of information technology and its related products "have become huge, integrated conglomerates... which include film, TV. production, publishing, recording, theme parks, and even data banks."[47] It is these transnational corporations which now control the technology and cultural content of the Information Age.

These transnationals are creating an information system as dedicated to consumerism as the communications systems of the past. Not only the means of production and distribution of technology are controlled from these technological citadels, but also the means to repair that technology. According to Schiller, "supplying the new instrumentation and processes means consolidating Western long term control in international markets over equipment, replacement parts, servicing, and finance."[48] This kind of absolute domination of the products means creates additional control over access to the new information systems. In an effort to spur the spread of its products in Latin America in the early 1980's, the US offered $30 million in old computer equipment in exchange for unrestricted broadcast rights.[49] That offer was accepted by a few countries, and resulted in the subsequent loss of sovereignty over information in those areas. Information technology, then, is being used as leverage to gain even further control over local communications systems, instead of providing a Latin American countries with a means of decreasing dependence and escaping the control of transnational corporations.

As a result, distribution of computers and related equipment is uneven within Latin America. The heaviest concentration of equipment, some 90%, is "to be found in the three most industrialized nations (Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil)."[50] Echoing the distribution of the radio and television telecommunications networks, computer distribution is once more concentrated in the capitols and scarce, if not non-existent, in the rural areas. Once again, problems of illiteracy and language variation further handicap access to information in areas where technology is available. As in the past, when radio was predicted to solve "many of the problems associated with illiteracy,"[51] the new electronic medium is being sold as the solution to its own inherent barriers to access.

The flow of information within this familiar distribution of communications media is once again uni-directional. Transnational media conglomerates, united increasingly with cable TV. and telephone companies, distribute the majority of information available to Latin America. The single exception to this occurs in Brazil, where its own media conglomerate, "TV. Globo, is now the fourth largest TV. network in the world (after ABC, NBC, and CBS)."[52] For the majority of Latin America, however, `innovations' such as multimedia and internet connections represent nothing more than a new way to import old information power paradigms. The culture of consumerism, existing alongside a strong impetus for the privatization of information technology, is augmented by the 'new' information media. Users are invited to consume software, more expensive databases, and of course the latest in computer hardware capabilities. The main attraction offered by this increased connectivity is the prospect of mainlining US. culture in the form of information, thus increasing the effectiveness of cultural domination.

The content of databases and other online information sources is controlled as the content of programming and advertising in radio, press, and television were in the previous six decades. Latin America is still being set up to receive not only information about the outside world, but information about itself from the North. Rodriguez gives a striking example of this in her article entitled "The Information Search in Latin America: an Analysis of Latin American Databases," when she describes the following incident:

Some years ago, representatives of a Central American government were in Washington negotiating a substantial loan from A.I.D. The economic consultants on the negotiating team lacked essential data on their country's national debt. After fruitless and expensive phone calls to the offices in their capital, one enterprising consultant produced the required data by consulting a US.-based database containing up-to-date statistics on his own country.[53]

As this incident indicates, Latin American countries are often forced to get vital information guiding economic and social policy decisions from information sources in the United States. This one-way flow of information helps to strengthen the ties of economic dependence which have characterized North-South relations for hundreds of years. While more and more of these databases are available to the a portion of the general populace in Latin America, their content and construction import Western values, and dictate the image that Latin America has of itself.

With the advent of the Information Age, and the tremendous opportunity for exploitation of the Lesser Developed Countries, many databases on Latin America have been compiled by the new media transnationals. In 1985, ITT alone owned "as many as 30 databases in Latin America."[54] The US. domination of databases about the region poses several dangers to Latin American political and cultural sovereignty. The first of these dangers can be seen in the construction of databases. Assumptions of the database assemblers and selectors heavily influences the determination of what should and should not be included in a database. These assumptions amount to unconscious, or at times conscious, censorship of the information available.[55] Because of cultural biases, a piece of information which might seem irrelevant to a North American, would be deemed important a by physician in Guatemala, for instance. Rodriguez cites as an example the many medical databases which are currently available to Third World countries.[56] Because these databases are compiled in North America, the focus of the databases is on North American maladies, not on tropical ones. Databases such as these, which contain no information on cholera, for example, are practically useless when it comes to treating an epidemic like the one in Peru. Issues of relevance create a "barrier which places the Third World countries at a cultural disadvantage."[57]

Language is another barrier thrown up by US. domination of Latin American databases. The vast majority of databases created every year are created with English as the primary language. In 1989, English was the sole language in 71.6% of the CD-Rom databases world wide. Of those databases which were bi- or multi-lingual, English was unilaterally one of the included languages[58] The effect of this dominance is three-fold.

First of all, there is a clear domination of Western culture and ideology in the majority of the world's databases. Second, the implication is that other cultures are of less commercial value and therefore less value as a culture in general. The damage such assumptions have done to societies world-wide can be seen in the war and famine experienced by peoples who have lost their cultural identity. Third, by being forced to search for information using semantics that are not entirely familiar, competent use of these databases by non-native speakers is extremely difficult. Problems of terminology and idiom, already difficult for native speakers, become insurmountable for the non-native speaker [59] Even the search for Spanish names in an English-only database is a nightmare due to the "scattered and inconsistent indexing," for which English databases are known.[60]

A Myth for the Age of Information

The prognostication for the future of Latin America in the age of information is not an optimistic one. Current trends indicate that previous patterns of domination and dependence are playing themselves out again in the information arena. The `innovations' in communications technology that are being incorporated into the Latin American framework "have not benefited all of humanity equally. Just as the telephone, telegraph, and transatlantic cable, these new advances have, from the outset, been selectively distributed and subjected to a powerful process of monopolization."[61] The myths of economic enhancement and democratization will remain just that if these trends are allowed to continue. This is true not only for Latin America, but also for the Lesser Developed Countries as a whole.

In order to prevent a reinvention of a hierarchical, colonialist world order that preaches only the values of consumerism and profit-making, several things need to happen. In order to create a true democratization of society, clear, concise, and objective information has to be accessible to the masses of Latin America. This implies massive policy changes on the national level for many countries in the region. Education, especially, is the single most powerful tool in the hands of Latin American countries. By investing in the literacy of its rural peoples, and inviting their participation in the planning and implementation of the network to distribute information, these countries could create the "conditions of access and participation" which are an "essential condition for democratic communication."[62] One project which attempts to focus on rural peoples and their needs is the IBASE (Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses) database in Brazil. IBASE's objective is to "provide an effective service of support and consultancy to the popular movements," including such organizations as "grass-roots communities, churches, trade-unions, neighborhood associations, and so on.[63] The idea for IBASE was created by an independent organization through a series of workshops with members of grass-roots organizations, in which participants outlined their information needs. Although IBASE currently has little funding, and is struggling to meet the needs of its patrons, the database stands out as an example of what could be effectively implemented, given the funding and the will to do so.

Radical reform is also needed on the level of international information control. Instead of a tool for dependency and domination, communications need to become a means for the preservation of cultural identity and national sovereignty. Besides the declaration for the New World Information Order and the McBride Report, several pieces of legislation have been passed which provide guidelines for the more balanced flow of information both internationally and nationally. What is missing is not the paperwork, but the political will of the industrialized countries to stand up with their lesser developed brethren and confront the transnational corporations that are inheriting almost absolute control of our means of communication and cultural reinforcement. The Declaration of Mexico on Informatics, Development, and Peace in 1981, states most eloquently the possibilities of the Information Age.

Informatics, if developed in the interest of all mankind, can serve as an instrument of emancipation and development fully preserving the right of the individual to privacy and self-fulfillment. Only thus can it effectively contribute to universal prosperity, human dignity, social justice, and ultimately world peace.[64]

The myth of the Information Age and the effects it will have on regions like Latin America is a powerful one, because the possibility of economic improvement and increased popular participation is indeed there. However, information technology, like any other form of technology, does not operate in a vacuum. It serves the purposes that society dictates. Perhaps the best wayto dictate a technology that serves the purpose of social reform, is to propagate a new myth. As Barthes has said, "the best weapon against myth is... to mythify it in its turn, and to produce an artificial myth."[65] What will the nature of this myth be? The myth of the transnational corporation, waiting to subjugate a world through the means of information technology, creating a new Metropolis. In light of this reality, the nations of the world must rebel and unite to turn that technology into a tool for creating a "free and just world,"[66] that otherwise will not exist.


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Rodriguez, Ketty, "The information search in Latin America: an analysis of Latin American databases," Libri. v43, n3, (1993): 245-253.

Schiller, Herbert I. Mass Communications and American Empire, 2nd ed. San Francisco: Westview Press,1992.

Winner, Langdon, "Mythinformation," Questioning Technology: Tool, Toy, or Tyrant? Ed. by Alice Carnes and John Zerzan, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers,1991.


[1] For the purposes of this paper, the wide variety of countries in the geographic areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America, will be referred to as `Latin America.' This in no way implies that the countries of these regions are identical or even similar in their socio-economic backgrounds. The forces addressed here, however, will deal with the general economic and political trends of the area.

[2] Besser, Howard A. "Elements of Modern Consciousness," excerpts from Advertisements for computer products examined through two social theories of knowledge, Doctoral dissertation, UC Berkeley School of Library and Information Studies, 1988, p.16.

[3] Winner, Langdon, "Mythinformation," Questioning Technology: Tool, Toy, or Tyrant? Ed. by Alice Carnes and John Zerzan, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers,1991, p.166.

[4] Schiller, Herbert I. Mass Communications and American Empire, 2nd ed. San Francisco: Westview Press,1992, p.4.

[5] Baudrillard, Jean, "The Implosion of Meaning in the Media, and the Implosion of the Social in the Masses," Questioning Technology: Tool, Toy, or Tyrant. Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1991, p.161.

[6] Mattelart, Armand and Schmucler, Hector, Communication and Information Technologies: Freedom of Choice for Latin America? Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1985, p.152.

[7] Barthes, Roland, Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972, p.121.

[8] Hanna, Nagy, The Information Technology Revolution and Economic Development. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1991, p.56.

[9] Hanna, p.5.

[10] Ibid., p.6.

[11] Ibid., p.26.

[12] Ibid., p.31.

[13] Barthes, p.131.

[14] Annis, Sheldon, "Giving Voice to the Poor," Foreign Policy. Fall, 1991, N48:93-106.

[15] Annis, p.93.

[16] Ibid., p. 93.

[17] Ibid., p.95.

[18] Ibid., p.106.87

[19] Hanna, p.9.

[20] Hanson, Jarice and Uma Narula, New Communications Technologies in Developing Countriesx. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1990, p.121.

[21] Hanson, p.125.

[22] Mattelart, p.162.

[23] Ibid., p.2.

[24] Gonzalez-Manet, Enrique, The Hidden War of Information. Trans. by Laurien Alexandre. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1988, p.99.

[25] Gonzalez-Manet, p.98.

[26] Hampe-Martinez, Teodoro, "The diffusion of books and ideas in colonial Peru: a study of private libraries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries," Hispanic American Historical Review. May, 1993, p.211.

[27] Martín-Barbero, Jesus, "Communication from culture: the crisis of the national and the emergence of the popular," Media, Culture, and Society. 1988, v76, p.448.

[28] Gonzalez-Manet, p.29.

[29] Reeves, Geoffrey, Communications and the `Third World'. New York: Routledge, 1993, p.109.

[30] Reeves, p.109.

[31] Schiller, p.8.

[32] Reeves, p.11.

[33] Hanson p. 99.

[34] Annis, p.17.

[35] Gonzalez-Manet, p.29.

[36] Reeves, p.157.

[37] Ibid., p.158.

[38] Buckman, Mark, "With a consumer base of 268 million, Latin America's potential is serious," Mediaweek. 1993, v3, p.9.

[39] p.4.

[40] Reeves, p.102.

[41] Gonzalez-Manet, p.33.

[42] Schiller, p. 20.

[43] Ibid., p. 23.

[44] Mattelart, p.10.

[45] Rancogliolo, Rafael, "Toward the year 2000: A Latin American view," The Global Media Debate. Ed. by George Gerbner, Hamid Mowlana, and Kaarle Nordenstreng, Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1993, p.168.

[46] Reeves, p.126.

[47] Schiller, p.12.

[48] Ibid., p.171.

[49] Gonzalez-Manet, p.31.

[50] Hanson, p. 99.

[51] Reeves, p.171.

[52] Annis, p. 4.

[53] Rodriguez, Ketty, "The information search in Latin America: an analysis of Latin American databases," Libri. v43, n3, (1993): 245.

[54] Gonzalez-Manet, p. 107.

[55] Schiller, p. 34.

[56] Rodriguez, p.255.

[57] Ibid., p. 256.

[58] Ibid., p.255.

[59] Ibid., p. 257.

[60] Ibid., p. 257.

[61] Gonzalez-Manet, p.11.

[62] Rancogliolo, p.168.

[63] Mattelart, p.162.

[64] In Mattelart, p.159.

[65] Barthes, p.135.

[66] Gonzalez-Manet, p.9.

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