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Venezuela promotes free open-source software as alternative to Microsoft
[March 24, 2006]

Venezuela promotes free open-source software as alternative to Microsoft

By JORGE RUEDA Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

President Hugo Chavez has long been critical of big transnational companies, and now his government is promoting free open-source software as an alternative to market-dominating Microsoft (News - Alert) Corp.

Venezuela's science and technology ministry on Friday began the Latin American Free Software Installation Fair, an event promoting the use of the open-source Linux operating system and other nonproprietary programs over Windows by Microsoft.

Groups of Linux users are holding similar events simultaneously in countries from Argentina to Colombia, and the Venezuelan government has signed on as a promoter.

The technology ministry said in a statement that the fair, which ends Saturday, is part Venezuela's move toward "technological sovereignty, and taking advantage of knowledge for building national scientific independence." The gathering began with seminars by experts on the subject, and also was to include sessions for Venezuelans pick up and install copies of Linux software.

Chavez, a vehement critic of the capitalist system, issued a decree in 2004 ordering all the country's public institutions to actively move toward the Linux operating system and other open-source alternatives that can mean millions of dollars (euros) in savings.

Government agencies have gradually been making the change.

Chavez says previous governments spent more on licensing fees for proprietary software than social programs to fight poverty, which have become a top priority for his socialist government.

Chavez once called the switch to open-source software crucial to "stop depending on software owned by others."

"If knowledge doesn't have owners, intellectual property is a trick of neoliberalism," he said.

Government officials also have noted that open-source software eliminates the need for costly upgrades since it is produced by programmers across the world who share ideas to develop such programs for free distribution.

The Venezuelan government hasn't focused direct criticism on Microsoft, but Chavez has regularly condemned "the hegemony of the multinationals" -- saying many big companies are to blame for putting profits above the needs of poor people across Latin America.

Chavez, a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro, has repeatedly clashed with the U.S. government, although U.S. products from Coca-Cola to American cars are sold widely in the South American country. Venezuela also remains a leading supplier of oil to the United States.

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