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Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico (2004-11-15 to 2004-12-01) Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico (2004-11-15 to 2004-12-01)

Submitted by root. on 2005-01-10 05:43 PM. RMS
I spent a week in Venezuela, giving a speech and some interviews at an event which invited speakers from all across Latin America. During the event, the state oil company PDVSA announced its decision to switch 100% to free software. Their decision is not based on convenience or cost; it is based on sovereignty. Their computers used to be handled by a US company, SAIC. When opponents of President Chavez tried to drive him from office by shutting down oil protection, the US government helped out by telling SAIC to prevent them from using their computers. PDVSA therefore knows from experience that using non-free software means you are at the mercy of the developers, and has decided to solve the problem for good and all.

I was supposed to be interviewed on a breakfast TV show, and had to wake up at 0530 for it. When we arrived at the station, we found out that everything had been pre-empted; the prosecutor in charge of cases against people who participated in the Bush-sponsored attempt to overthrow Chavez had been killed with a bomb in his car. This act of terrorism was most likely carried out by some of the same people that Bush supports. But there are no plans to respond by abolishing civil liberties, as has been done in the US.

On Sunday I went for lunch with Sergeant Torres, who has converted many of the Venezuelan Army's servers to GNU/Linux. He brought his wife and son; his son is something like 8 years old and already starting to use free software.

For dinner I went with some Venezuelan free software activists to a restaurant near the top of the mountain ridge that separates Caracas from the Caribbean. We couldn't see the sea as we sat down to eat, around 540pm, because clouds were in the way. The appetizer, a soup, was marvelous but the rest of the dinner was not quite as good.

After dinner we went to sit at a table just outside the restaurant to have coffee or tea. I felt like doing something else, so I played a Bulgarian tune on the recorder. A person sitting at another table nearby said, "That sounds Celtic, or Breton."

It is very common for people who are not accustomed to Balkan folk dance music to think it sounds Celtic, but few say something so specific as "Breton." So I played a Breton dance tune and said, "That was a Breton dance, Kost-ar-c'hoed." Then I realized the man was speaking Spanish with an unusual accent, so I asked him, "Etes-vous français?" He said that he was, and in fact from Brittany. We got into a conversation and I explained free software to him and the man with him, who turned out to be the restaurant's owner. Since he was interested, my friends then joined the conversation. Meanwhile, by this time the clouds had dissipated and we could see the shore and the sean, beautiful 6000 feet below.

The following day I went to Colombia. The strength of the free software community there really surprised me. I met with people from several user groups, and on Tuesday met with enthusiastic representatives of Colombiás major universities as well as the Mayor of Bogota, to whom I suggested that the most important way to support free software was to switch to it in the city's schools. We agreed they would have a plan ready when I return in March.

On Wednesday I flew to Veracruz, Mexico, along with my Colombian friend Tania who was not feeling very well. The connection in the airport in Mexico City was a truly disgusting experience. The instructions stated by the flight crew about where we should go after landing were hard for me to follow, so we stopped at an information booth to ask what to do. They said we had to go through immigration and customs there in Mexico City. Getting to immigration was not easy, as it was a long distance and Tania's head hurt when she walked. She used the moving walkways as opportunities to rest. When we finally got there, the line was long and slow; we had to wait for around 40 minutes, and there was nowhere she could sit down. But we finally got through, and had to walk back and forth through a long hall to find the right baggage claim. It was downstairs. We took the elevator down. Our luggage was not there.

People working there told us it had been sent straight through to Vera Cruz, and we had to go to Hall 15. I could not entirely follow their directions, but we had to go back up where we had come from. We decided to take the elevator. We called the elevator and waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing.

I went upstairs, called the elevator, and it came. So I went in and took it downstairs, whereupon Tania could get in and ride up. I guess one does learn something useful from playing adventure-style games. I told some people who appeared to work in the airport that the lower-floor elevator call button was broken. Since people rarely have an occasion to go up, it could be broken for months with no one noticing.

We also asked some of the staff people there how to get to Hall 15. They said, go out here and turn right. We were going out through the line of immigration control booths. Surely that couldn't be right, could it?

It was. Apparently we had waited for 40 minutes in that line for nothing. We went out, back into the hall that opened onto the many gates.

Tania was feeling really bad then. There were some seats there, so I suggested she sit down while I go look for Hall 15 and verify it was really the place we should go. I went a short ways, and did not find a Hall 15, but I did find a set of immigration booths with hardly anyone waiting. I told our story to a person working there, who said that Hall 15 was past these booths.

I returned to Tania who said she needed water. I went and got two small bottles for about 4 dollars. (The price of nearly everything in that airport is outrageous.) We walked slowly down to the immigration booths and asked the way to Room 15. They told us "straight through, that way". But it was impossible to walk straight through, since the way led to a zigzag waiting line for a hand-baggage xray machine. After we walked back and forth through it, I explained all our troubles to the man working there, who was pleased to hear we were headed for Veracruz; he said he came from a town near there. Then he told us that the place we really had to go was Gate B.

A little ways down the corridor was a restaurant. I suggested Tania sit down while I hunted for Gate B to see if was the right place for us to go. At this point I was skeptical of everything they told me. I moved on down the corridor quite a ways, and found Gate B, which was not a gate at all, but rather a large waiting room with some airline agent kiosks. The Mexicana agent said that we didn't need to do anything except go to the right gate for our flight, but that there would be no announcement of the proper gate until 1620. She suggested we both wait in Gate B.

That could have been an easy thing to do in an ordinary situation, but Tania was finding it painful to walk, and it was a long way to Gate B, and we had no way of knowing whether our flight's gate was in the other direction. We could walk to Gate B only to learn we had to retrace our steps. So I suggested she remain sitting in the restaurant; at 1620, I would find out where the gate was, and we could go there, without doing extra unnecessary walking.

However, at 1620 the monitor continued to say "B" for our flight. At 1630 it continued to say "B". Something was wrong. Did this mean the flight was delayed?

I figured out that the part of the airport on this side of the immigration booths was the domestic part. So I checked the gates between us and the end of the domestic section. They had other flights, which meant they could not be for our flight. It followed that we could start walking (slowly) in the other direction, and checking the gates as we went.

We got as far as the monitors, which still said only "Gate B" for our flight. At 1640 they finally told us to go to gate 14. We proceded down there--it was directly opposite Gate B--and found almost all the passengers had entered a rather crowded shuttle bus. "How is it that so many other people are already here, when the monitors only just started to list the gate?" I asked. The staff said, "We announce flights in Gate B. The monitors are run by the airport, not by us, and they post the information when they feel like it."

I have never seen a worse system in an airport.

When we got to Veracruz, we had to go through customs, which caused a few minutes' delay. What happened next was nothing: nobody was waiting for us.

Tania went to sleep on a bench, with her head on my computer bag, while I found a way to phone the event's organizer, Miguel. He eventually got there and met us, explaining that he had sent someone else to meet us, but that person reported said we didn't arrive. I guess he didn't wait long enough to make sure.

The bed in the hotel was quite hard, so when it was time to go to bed I inflated my air mattress. As I lay in bed, starting to drift off to sleep, I noticed that the mattress wasn't as full as it ought to have been. The thought came to me that there must be a hole. I reinflated it and fell asleep, but it didn't last long.

I managed to sleep until morning, but both shoulders were hurting by that time. In the three days there, I found a patch and used the hotel swimming pool to find the hole. I patched it, inflated the mattress, and it still lost air. Using the swimming pool again, I found another hole on the other side. (I wonder how this happened.) This morning I patched it, but I could not try inflating it again for several hours. If it has another hole, I will have to search for another swimming pool.


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