Brazil: when alterglobalists celebrated free software

Illustration: musician Gilberto Gil, then Minister of Culture, and Lula, then President of the Republic of Brazil, in 2007. Photo Wilson Dias / Wikimedia Commons / CC by

He is a giant of Brazilian music, guitarist, singer and composer, who spent several months in prison in the 1960s under the military junta, for “anti-government activities” (his songs were considered subversive by the dictatorship). Gilberto Gil was Minister of Culture from 2003 to 2008, under the presidency of Lula. This June 26, he is 80 years old, and it is an opportunity to remember having seen him in Porto Alegre on January 29, 2005: every year at that time the World Social Forum took place there, a major of alterglobalists from all over the world.

“Windows doesn’t dance!”

The latter supported Free Software, as did the Brazilian government at the time (which sparked a conflict with Microsoft), and the Forum’s computer equipment testified to this (computers running GNU/Linux, OpenOffice office automation, Mozilla for Internet browsing, Gimp for image processing and retouching).

Several workshops and conferences dealt with free software, one of which, which brought together a good thousand participants, including yours truly, counted among its speakers the sociologist Manuel Castells, the jurist Lawrence Lessig, the author of the Creative Commons licenses, a veteran of the activism new age, John Perry Barlow (died February 2018, aged 70), co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, poet, author of the “Cyberspace Declaration of Independence”.

I remember the acclaim for his formula, “Windows doesn’t dance!”, in a rock concert atmosphere. But the superstar of this conference was obviously Gilberto Gil. Here is the article I sent from Brazil to ZDNet (the original is still online there) – with all my gratitude to for the links gone but saved in copy.

World Social Forum: alterglobalists celebrate free software

Society: A Forum equipped with open software, a Minister of Culture who praises the “free” revolution and Creative Commons licenses… For activists in Porto Alegre, Linus Torvalds’ penguin has become a symbol of the economy solidarity.

By Thierry Noisette, special correspondence | Monday, January 31, 2005

PORTO ALEGRE (Brazil) – It is not a surprise, Brazil and the alterglobalists adhere to the principle and the philosophy of “free software”. Witness the political debates on this theme, such as the computer equipment deployed, on the occasion of this fifth World Social Forum (WSF), which ends on Monday.

In terms of equipment, the 700 computers arranged throughout the huge Forum (eleven thematic spaces deployed over kilometers along the Guaiba River), are all exclusively under free software. Linux operating system, OpenOffice office automation, Mozilla for internet browsing, Gimp for image processing and retouching… The 120 computers in the press room were no exception (about 5,000 accredited journalists). The internet connection, at high speed and by optical fiber, suffered a few network cuts, fortunately very sporadic. The city has invested heavily and the equipment will remain in place permanently.

The debates were in tune with this abundance of resources. Brazil, especially since the election of its president Lula in October 2002, is particularly advanced in promoting free software. Witness the zeal with which the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates sought, ten days before, to obtain an official audience with the Brazilian president during the “other Forum”, that of Davos. Gates and Lula spoke well together during a roundtable, but they did not, strictly speaking, have a face-to-face meeting.

In Porto Alegre, among the debates and workshops organized, about twenty were related to the subject, such as “Solidarity economy and free software, two faces of another economy”, as well as two meetings around the “digital revolution” which were fully dedicated.

At the premiere, last Friday, the intervention of Sergio Amadeu da Silveira, president of the National Institute of Information Technologies, an official body responsible for the migration of IT in the federal administration, was expected. to free software. A year ago, it was he who sharply apostrophized Microsoft, comparing the multinational to a drug dealer who offers free access to Windows to better addict young users. The American publisher had filed a defamation complaint, before retracting… “Do not use illegal software, use free software and spread it!”, He chanted this year. “Free software is software for sharing. And software is like knowledge, it can be copied and spread without impoverishing whoever does it.”

Less than 10% of Brazilians have access to a computer

For his part, the Brazilian Marcelo Branco (from the Software Book Project) emphasized the democratization of access to the Internet in the country: today less than 10% of the inhabitants have access to a computer, with free software will help bridge the gap faster. Diego Saravia, from the NGO Hipatia, even launched with lyricism: “Another world is possible, and free software are tools for this world…” Georg Greve, who came as president of the Free Software Foundation Europe , praised the concrete work carried out in Brazil in favor of the most disadvantaged. As the “Telecentros” project in Sao Paulo illustrates with vigor, which consists of equipping the famous favelas (slums) with multimedia centers open to all.

If only a hundred people attended this first meeting, they were a good thousand the following day Saturday for a second meeting with other VIPs of international stature. Present were sociologist Manuel Castells, jurist Lawrence Lessig (who wrote about it on his blog), but also one of the veterans of new age activism, John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (his formula “Windows doesn’t dance!” was a triumph…).

At their side, Gilberto Gil, sacred monster of Brazilian music and current Minister of Culture. Hoping to see “21st century French revolutions” in software and commerce flourish, the minister-musician promised increased support for free software and “Creative Commons” licenses (of which Lessig was one of the most fervent promoters ). In his momentum, Gil even launched: “I am a minister, I am a musician, but above all I am a hacker”.

That week, no doubt, Bill Gates did well to prefer Davos to Porto Alegre.

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Brazilian schools under Mandriva Linux – December 12, 2010

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