We met with you at the IGF, the annual global stakeholder forum to discuss Internet governance. You attended our session “Internet Governance with and for Citizens”. Why?
This was my first IGF and I had high expectations, especially because of this year’s theme, “Internet United”, which calls for resilience and solidarity. I wanted to be there in Katowice to learn more about social and digital inclusion, human rights, connectivity and cybersecurity. It’s a great place to share experiences with peers from all over the world.
The We, The Internet session (review here),organized by Missions Publiques, immediately caught my attention and it was one of the first sessions I signed up for, as I believe that Internet governance should encourage the citizens of the world to play a more decisive role and intervene in defending their rights, their freedom of expression and in decisions about how the Internet is governed. The participatory process activates citizens through dialogue initiatives, debates and meeting spaces for the creation of policies in a transparent environment with plurality and equality. Citizens themselves have acknowledged this through your many Dialogues: the Internet must be protected and citizens, alongside other actors, are responsible for its evolution and protection.
The participants in the highly interactive session We, The Internet came from different developing regions of the world, for which the Internet has been a very important tool for progress, information, connectivity and education for our peoples. The Latin Americans present agreed with some of the participants from Africa on the need to strengthen the expansion of the scope of Missions Publiques in our regions and especially in the Spanish language, to promote dialogue and the construction of spaces with Latin American citizens for the development of the Internet in our regions.
You have worked with indigenous communities or years. How has the Internet become a powerful lever for these people?
I have strong ties with the Wayuu people, they are the largest indigenous community in Colombia and live in the peninsula of La Guajira, on the north coast of my country. Our people have maintained their traditions, customs and even their language, the Wayuunaiki and although many also speak Spanish, the mothertongue has been preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. I have dedicated over 14 years of my life trying to improve and raise the level and quality of life of the Wayuu people through technology and the Internet in general. Why do I do this? Because today, the economic and environmental conditions of the Wayuu are such that their survival without the Internet is threatened. The internet has been an essential tool to publicize and denounce to the world the death of thousands of Wayuu children due to causes associated with malnutrition and a lack of drinking water. We have taught them to use the Internet, social networks, email and digital government programs that we work alongside with the ICT Ministry of Colombia. Not only have we contributed to make this gloomy situation visible through petitions, complaints and online campaigns , but these campaigns enough raised awareness to save lives thanks to international aid.
From online literacy to ICT training, ancestral trades have evolved to highly contribute to the economy of hundreds of families. We have equipped the most remote areas with computers and Internet connections for schools. But we have also provided very low cost internet and also Wi-Fi access to the inhabitants so that they can take advantage of the online trade and thus export the beautiful Wayuu handicrafts, which are an ancestral art that is transmitted from mother to daughter. Weavers manufacture backpacks, bags, bracelets, key chains, zandalias and chinchorros, among many other items. They are inspired by their daily lives, their beliefs, their cosmogony and their environment. Each piece is unique and made entirely by hand. This craft is now one of the main sources of financing for the community, online sales have allowed the creation of microenterprises through websites and various social networks to market their products, which are now exported across the globe. I have developed this work in an area of the Caribbean coast of Colombia called Manaure, located in the department of La Guajira, a predominantly indigenous region that also lives on the exploitation of open-pit salt mines.
To what extent was being a fellow in ICANN’s Global Indigenous Ambassador program an opportunity for your community?
ICANN is the international organization that decides the opening of any new Internet extension and manages, among other things, the list of top-level domains (TLDs) such as .com, .net, .org, . fr, . uk… It is the institution whose mission is to preserve the operational stability of the Internet, promote competition, and ensure the global representation of Internet communities.
The opportunity to be part of this program not only opened me the doors of ICANN’s At Large community, in which in addition to attending several meetings as a fellow, I am a member of several working groups in which we represent and defend the rights of end users of the Internet. I have also been able to participate in several meetings of LACNIC, the SSGI, among others, in addition to being linked to several CHAPTERS OF ISOC.
And it was also a great opportunity to publicize our people, our culture and our difficulties, to share experiences and acquire knowledge that allow usto advance more and more in our work with these vulnerable communities that need the Internet so much for their development and to improve and raise their quality of life. One of the main shortcomings of the Internet is the inequality in access to it, especially due to the lack of connectivity, due to the insufficiency of economic resources, especially in the poorest countries, and the great inequality that derives from it. The lack of infrastructure, but above all the lack of education and digital culture, also increases the digital divide, which is now accentuated by the Covid-19 crisis.
I am also a founding partner of the ISOC Rural Development SIG. This group promotes the social and digital inclusion of rural areas by encouraging their development. We are present in India, Africa, Asia and America, among others. We promote connectivity in rural areas through community networks and reach where operators do not reach. We also offer digital education opportunities for everyone, not just rural dwellers, to learn about new technologies.