some read my last blog entry and read it as granting a "passing grade" to what is happening in venezuela with regard to free software in the public sector. it's not hard to find those who will praise unequivocally and those who condemn equally broadly the situation there. so when someone takes a "shade of grey" position, as i personally do, it's unsurprising that it can be difficult to internalize for some. it thought i'd take a few minutes to clarify the greyness of my thoughts on this particular situation.
the event in maturin went very well and much of the value for me was in the international attendees, the public who arrived and the information that was shared amongst both local and global attendees. the showiness of the event was impressive, and the contrast between that and the conditions in the countryside was also quite evident. in other words, very few surprises.
i had been told before arriving that while there was an official mandate to move to free software in venezuela, there was a long ways to go yet in terms of actually realizing that. upon arrival and before the event started i talked with a few different people to gain a better understanding as to the dynamics of the situation and the players involved.
the push back from both external and internal forces against a move towards free software is not only unsurprising but completely expected. there are many who feel they stand to lose substantially from such a change and it can be difficult to find the political will to implement the changes when there are other seemingly more immediate concerns to attend to than the choice of software one uses.
at the same time, when it's politically safe (or better: politically advantageous) to speak about free software there is a great opportunity presented. when public officials are aware of the benefits and positive implications of free software the job of those who would like to further the adoption of open technology is made much easier.
the question is whether such opportunity is realized or wasted.
i know people who believe in governmental approaches and others who believe in grass roots movement and other who believe that private organizations are the fulcrum point for success ... personally i feel that the best answer is all approaches in concert as each segment has abilities that the others lack. this is similar to the system of checks and balances that the founders of the united states envisioned: a multiplicity of organs that differ dramatically in form and function but which engage separately and together to accomplish specific tasks as well as regulate each other.
social movements are robust: they are hard to corrupt externally, can be grown with few resources and provide an audible voice to a politically valuable commodity that both public and private interests listen to: the voting and spending public.
private organizations can provide valuable tenacity and an agility: they are incetivated strongly, they can move quickly and can bring to bear organizational and material resources that can be hard to coalesce in more distributed and vaguely arranged groups of people.
government can provide clear direction, particularly when it comes to altering the status quo: they can mandate changes that may not make "sense" to private enterprise without such mandate (see for instance the increase in accessibility in software that accompanied government requirements), they can enter into agreements of the sort not possible by non-governmental groups and they do represent large blocks of capital.
there are also weaknesses seen in each group: social movements can get bogged down and may have a hard time applying consistent and coherent pressure; private organizations don't always remain on the path due to changes in incentive; government will often default to words, which are far easier than actions, when they are not supported or pushed otherwise.
i personally believe that all of the above approaches have value and should happen in concert with each other to be most effective. unfortunately too often those in ngo's look to government with derision and instead of looking for ways to change the deficiencies just write off the entire system; those in government too often feel that the public is satisfied with words and that those who want real change don't "understand the complexities"; those in social movements often fail to appreciate the value in allies outside their own worlds. divided thusly each group is often highly non-effective, granting fulfillment to their own prophecies.
let me suggest instead that one shouldn't condemn a government for "only" saying that they should use free software (particularly when we simultaneously condemn other governments for saying the opposite, creating a "no-win" situation) but instead realize that this is a correction in alignment that requires support and additional energies put into it. such support and energy may come in the form of "co-aligned opposition": productive, non-negative struggle with those who are (or purport to be) on the same side to produce movement towards that shared goal.
in other words: usually we need each other. recognition of positives while highlighting and aiding the necessary additional changes and efforts leads to success.
and yes, i'd love the opportunity work with a government in my country who said "we need to move to free software" even if they had a hard time fulfilling that decree. at that point we could help them fulfill their words rather than running into walls of political dissonance.