TechCamp Goes to Montevideo – Technology for a Civil Society

Why do people increasingly call this country Tech Hub Uruguay? A big reason is the educated populace, including Uruguay providing a free laptop to every schoolchild.

Uruguayay schoolchilderen at their desks with their OLPC computers.
Uruguay – first country in the world with 100% coverage by the One Laptop Per Child initiative, implemented in Uruguay as “Plan Ceibal”.

Sometimes Uruguay goes even further. About two years ago, Uruguay was the host country for a USA-sponsored initiative, a series of “Tech Camps” promoting technology for a civil society. We were in the process of our initial move to Uruguay back then, during our 2-month Uruguay Test Drive, so didn’t catch this story at the time: TechCamp Goes to Montevideo, Uruguay | US State Department – USA-Uruguay cooperation on technology education for our hemisphere.

Hosted in partnership with the Government of Uruguay — whose sponsorship of laptops for youths has seen amazing success for education among children in the country — TechCamp provided an opportunity for participants to interact with expert technologists through a series of training sessions and small group discussions.

Uruguay wasn’t chosen because it needs to develop a civil society. It wasn’t chosen because it needs to educate its population on technology. The US Department of State, under Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State for the Obama Administration, chose Uruguay as a host country because Uruguay already is a leader in technology for a civil society.

Uruguay already is a civil society (a term which has specific meaning in politics – a society where information is freely available, political discussion is allowed and encouraged, freedom of speech is a primary value protected by the highest laws of the land, elections are fair and free, and the people truly have a voice in a representative democracy). Uruguay is a civil society, arguably more so than the United States of America. (In our opinion, there’s no argument, Uruguay wins!)

This joint venture between the US government and Uruguay is also notable, because frankly, Uruguay and the USA are not allies. My two countries have “friendly relations” but are not particularly well-aligned politically.

Por ejemplo:

  • Only the sloganeering extremists in the USA call President Obama a “socialist”: President Jose Mujica, sometimes called “the best president in the world“,  proudly calls himself a socialist.
  • The US has a locked-in duopoly two-party structure, which on many issues is really only one party (for example, how they handled the 2008-present global economic crisis). Uruguay broke through a century and half of a similar two-party duopoly, when the Frente Amplio finally took the Presidency in a strong vote in 2004, electing Doctor Tabaré Vásquez, from a different faction of the Frente Amplio, as the first president not from the duopoly. He continued to treat his breast cancer patients in the mornings at our mutualista, Asociación Española, where he was and is the chief of service of the breast oncology department, making him another candidate in my book for “Best President” – and he is the leading candidate for the 2014 elections. Presidents cannot serve consecutive terms here so there’s none of that wasteful pandering “running for re-election”, but they can run again later.
  • Uruguay and Iran are on decent terms with each other. Iran is also a trading partner with Uruguay, though not in areas violating sanctions. Uruguay and Iran also officially talk to each other. The USA and the Islamic Republic of Iran, not so much.
  • Cuba and Uruguay are on good terms with each other. The USA and Cuba, not so much.
  • Venezuela and Uruguay are on good terms with each other. To the point where President Mujica called for solidarity with his compañero (“comrade”) Hugo Chávez during his treatment. The USA and Venezuela, not so much.
  • Bolivia and Uruguay are on good terms with each other. To the point where President Mujica flew to Bolivia to stand with other Latin American leaders in support of Evo Morales and in protest of the several EU countries that illegally refused airspace and illegally violated the Bolivian sovereignty by in essence forcing down, and literally searching, the Presidential Plane. The USA and Bolivia? The USA was almost certainly behind that, ordering or “suggesting” to its NATO allies that they ground that plane in their futile Search for Snowden.

So to do such a joint effort, with the USA putting Uruguay in such a position of prominence, is very meaningful and gratifying. Unless, of course, it was all for the NSA to install internet wiretaps

But you know what? I trust that “Tio Pepe”, President Mujica, would have told the people of Uruguay and the world if that was what the US forced on him. We both want freedom, at least that’s what the People of the USA and Uruguay do both want, and clearly also what the Government of Uruguay wants. Right now, I hope our countries work together more. Including perhaps Uruguay doing some “Freedom and Liberty Camps” in the USA?


For more on my take on topics such as NSA and other government surveillance, internet freedom, the intersection of politics and technology, and more, please hop over to my Author Hub and Comment Site, Falling Off the Hemisphere (which is also the title of my forthcoming-in-2014 book!) This post is already more “political” than most of what we present here at Uruguay Expat Life. But of course, there will also be some politics here, because understanding the politics and the civil society of both your old and new countries is critical to a successful expat life, to immigration, to immersion travel, to any successful expatriation.

Oh, and with fiber-optic to home in nearly every major metro or suburban home in Uruguay by the end of this year, and the rest of the country soon, courtesy of our “socialist” government from the state-owned Antel telecom, at reasonable pricing, maybe teach my “home country” something about technology too!

In Tech Hub Uruguay, the government owns the telcommunications company. In Low-tech USA, the Telcoms own the government. At least it seems so, in terms of you getting fair pricing and modern services… I’ll take Antel over Comcast Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink (Qwest), Verizon, or AT&T, any day. Price, service, value. And because the Uruguay government isn’t doing secret spying and then lying about it, I don’t at all mind that the government of Uruguay is my Internet Service Provider. Of course, we at Casita Mercer of Uruguay Expat Life do have and use a VPN! Because Privacy is Patriotic! (in either of our countries.)

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Mark Mercer

Site co-owner Mark Mercer. AKA Marcos Cristoforo Mercer, AKA the Fuzzy Wanderer. Expat from USA living in Uruguay as of mid-2012, after "test-driving" it for a few months in 2011 and early 2012. Married to Lisamaria, AKA well-known travel and fitness writer Lisa Marie Mercer. Follow Mark on Twitter @mcmxs and his many other sites, which you can find at http://about.me/MarkMercer. I write and engage about many of my other interests, on Google+ at https://google.com/+MarkMercer