Guatemala: Indigenous village declares internet access a human right
August 03, 2012
In the indigenous village of Santiago Atitlan, Internet access has been declared “a human right” by both their inhabitants and local authorities. Authorities are also implementing a plan to provide free community Wi-Fi to the entire population so that everyone can benefit from it and exercise their rights.
The concepts of community and sharing are entrenched into the daily life of indigenous people in Guatemala. Common spaces, open doors, collaboration and sharing are the main characteristics of communities, specially among small linguistic communities such as the Mayan Tzutuhil indigenous group in the Highlands of Guatemala. As cultures evolve and adapt to the new discoveries of science and technology, indigenous cultures are embracing new technologies and adapter their use with their traditional principles. That is the case of Internet access.
The youth of Santiago Atitlan pro-actively use digital tools. Their programme I respond! and you? (Yo Respondo, y Tu?) [es] is broadcast via the Internet and local cable TV and promoted throughout social networks. There they host dialogues discussing local problems, such as recycling and other ecological issues.
The group dedicated a show to the community Wi-Fi project once the first phase was ready. During the episode, called “Internet… my human right”, Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, was invited to launch the community Wi-Fi. The Special Rapporteur congratulated the community and celebrated that Internet access is recognized as an effective tool to exercise and enforce other rights.
As described by Radio Ati, the community Wi-Fi project is a result of the joint efforts of the population and local authorities:
Tomás Chiviliú, mayor of the city, points out that one of his purposes is to bring transparency to local public information, therefore they developed a network allowing the free circulation of information between different local government offices. That led them to install all the necessary equipment and offer Internet to the entire neighbourhood. He added that it is important to guarantee access to information in general, because it is of benefit to the youth, local companies and tourism.
While Santiago Atitlan is one of the poorest villages in Central America, it is leading the way by providing communal Internet access. However, the network is password protected: the password, “I am Atitlan” (Yo soy Atitlan), seeks to strengthen local identity and remind its users that the people accessing the network are located next to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Atitlan Lake. The Municipality of Santiago Atitlan is also very active on Facebook [es] and Twitter with the account @atitlanmuni [es].
Santiago Atitlan and its people are teaching the rest of us three important lessons: Internet is a rights enabler, since it makes the exercise of other rights possible, such as, the right to know; community Wi-Fi, as described by the mayor, has many benefits; and finally, new technologies are of extreme importance for indigenous cultures, as they enable indigenous youth to share their millenarian cultures with the world, spread their ideas, and invent a future without borders. The future is now, and you can live it in the village of Santiago Atitlan.
In my Virtual Anthropology class, we studied the way indigenous communities use the internet around the world. It was really interesting the way website design could create spaces on the internet that honestly reflected the culture and communities’ values. In another life, that would be an awesome thing to dedicate the next ten or so years to - design anthropology for internet spaces created for indigenous communities.
In related news, last month the U.N. affirmed that Internet freedom is a basic human right. In another twenty years, the fact that this was ever a question will be openly acknowledged as an absurdity.