Free software liberates Venezuela

Yesterday I came across this article by David Sugar (titled the same as my diary) (pdf_version).

Within Daivd’s story about his trip to Venezuela for the International Forum on Free Knowledge he tells the story of what really happened in December of 2002 when the Venezuelan oil workers were locked out from work.

What’s most disturbing about this story is how it has been ignored, discarded, passed up, burried… whatever you want to call it.

The article warms up with the reasons for his travel to Venezuela and about the various free software (open source) programs being implemented in Venezuela, and why.

The Next section is about the two economic ministries. This section was pretty interesting to me. They’ve got a ‘legacy’ ministry that deals with the traditional capitalistic economy. The people’s economic ministry is tasked with transforming their economy so they can survive the world economy when oil runs out, or isn’t as profitable as it is today.

There’s also a section on the ministry of intelectual property, and a sidebar on IP to boot. Very informative, if you ask me.

Assuming that private corporate interests in the developed world today do succeed in the great program of owning what people are allowed to think, it is very possible that places like Venezuela will become the new leading nations in science and technology.

Then the article starts to heat up really good. “How oil fuels the Venezuelan revolution” is the name of the next section. I tried to write a condensed version of this section, but I just couldn’t do it. So here’s the meat and potatoes.

Before the worker lockout, the administration of the state oil company was strongly connected to the wealthy elite of Venezuela. Many of the wealthiest people in Venezuela had been getting much richer thanks to the oil company, in part through contracts and corruption, not unlike what has been happening here in the U.S. with politically connected companies like Halliburton.

President Hugo Chavez was originally elected on a platform to use the oil wealth to help pay for the poor of the country through education and health programs, rather than simply making the country’s wealthy even wealthier. Many of Venezuela’s wealthier citizens, used to having money from the state oil company, would not tolerate this, and so they decided President Hugo Chavez had to go at any cost, even if it meant sabotaging their own nation to do it.

So they tried to close the oil company in December of 2002, by locking out the workers, holding the oil resources of the nation as a whole hostage, and by having the entire IT infrastructure under their control. If the data and systems present then had been destroyed, it would have been years before another drop of oil could have been produced.

Out of 4800 managers, about 200 chose to stay behind, and together, with the help of many by then retired former managers who were less corrupt than the ones who left, the workers tried to save the oil company. But the biggest challenge was the computer infrastructure.

Management of IT was at the time contracted to SAIC, (Science Applications International Corp), which has well known political and business connections to Cheney’s office, to the U.S. DOD, and the CIA. At first, when the Venezuelan army was called out to secure the oil facilities during the lockout, the SAIC staff created videos of the troops securing the facilities in an attempt to claim they were under attack and tried to persuade the U.S. congress to give Bush war powers to seize the oil fields. When this scheme failed, the SAIC workers fled the country, but changed all the passwords and kept remote control of all of the computer servers of PDVSA. They choose not to destroy the data on them because they thought they’d be back in a few months once the government of President Chavez finally capitulated.

Much of the infrastructure of PDVSA was under Microsoft Windows-based servers, and used proprietary database software such as Microsoft SQL. The IT managers didn’t expect a bunch of oil workers to be capable of thwarting their plans. Those same oil workers, working together with local computer hackers, were able to secure control of vital computer servers, and in doing so saved the oil infrastructure.

The Venezuelan revolution is perhaps the first revolution in history saved by computer hackers and this is one of the reasons the government is so very strong on promoting the use of free software, particularly in public administration. The Venezuelan government wishes never again to have vital infrastructure held hostage or sabotaged by agents of foreign nations. This cannot be accomplished by source secret proprietary software, such as Microsoft Windows, with its infamous backdoor NSA key. Even proprietary software from a trustworthy source has to be suspect for possible tampering, and so must be rejected, not just by Venezuela, but by any nation that wishes to protect and maintain its sovereignty against sabotage.

This part of the story has probably never made it onto American television, and it needs to be told.

The rest of the article is good too. It’s all good. I’ll just quote a bit more and leave it at that.

Capturing this wealth is viewed as an urgent matter because, even though Venezuela posses one of the largest known reserves of oil, they expect world oil production to begin declining and see this wealth as very temporary. Socorro Hernendez said PDVSA believes that nobody will “burn” oil (as for example in automobiles) in as little as 20 years. He also said they believe that, while oil will remain important to the multitude of other industries in which it is used, the price will settle to $5 a barrel, so now is not only the best, but also the last, chance to create something useful from this wealth.

And my favorite part:

All these things began with the oil worker lockout. Rather than bringing down the government of Hugo Chavez, by working together with foreign interests to directly sabotage the country’s most vital industry, the wealthy elite of Venezuela radicalized the oil workers in a way that no other action could. The workers of PDVSA are now fully committed to creating the new economy, and will remain so regardless of who is in power. When the rich of Venezuela ponder who it was that made Venezuela become a revolutionary nation, they shouldn’t look at President Chavez, who may not have even been thinking of this at the time, and certainly had no means to accomplish it if he had; instead, they should look in the mirror.

About the author:
David Sugar is an active maintainer for a number of packages that are part of the GNU project, including GNU Bayonne. He has served as the voluntary chairman of the FSF’s DotGNU steering committee, as a founder and CTO for Open Source Telecomm Corporation, and currently owns and operates Tycho Softworks.

Simul-Posted at Daily Kos.

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