Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 335 | Junio 2009



Are We Surfing the Internet Or Have We Run Aground?

Information and communication technologies are the new arenas where today’s youth can learn and come together. So how is Nicaragua navigating this network of knowledge? Have we run aground in these vast, uncharted waters?

William Grigsby Vergara

According to a World Economic Forum report recently released in Guatemala, Nicaragua came in last in Central America with respect to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and dropped from 116th place in the world to 125th between last year’s report and this. Other Latin American countries dropped an average of five places, with the exception of Costa Rica, which rose from 60th to 56th.

Amid enormous inequalities

I sought out three experts to explore why we have such a marked lag in the use of ICTs in our county. The first, Cornelio Hopmann, is of German origin, has a master’s degree in informatics from the University of Bonn plus 37 years of experience working on this subject, and has been living in Nicaragua for the last 23 years. He is a former university lecturer and is now the executive director of e-Nicaragua, an Internet gateway that promotes the use of ICT technologies on behalf of Nicaragua’s development. He began by highlighting the fact that over 40% of young people in Nicaragua between the ages of 15 and 30 never even finished primary school. You could install the Internet for free in these people’s houses and still find them helpless, unable to “google” any information.

The problem is that to exploit the Internet beyond looking for music or videos takes certain intellectual skills that the 15% of young Nicaraguans who have barely made it through fourth grade unfortunately don’t have. According to Hopmann, “The problem in this country is that you have a young illiterate person alongside a young person capable of studying in Yale. This enormous social inequality creates such a diffuse spectrum that it’s hard to find a common denominator that unifies ‘the youth.’”

According to data from the 2005 National Census, only 3.5% of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 get into university. And after they finish, assuming they do, the country sends them out into a world of unemployment, or alternatively they head for Costa Rica or the United States.

So how much good is the Internet in this social context? Before answering, Hopmann points out that one of Nicaragua’s “illnesses” is to parrot the Latin American discourse about the “brain drain,” which is only a very relative problem in our social context. He takes the case of Cuba as an example. That Caribbean country has serious problems providing employment to all of its university graduates and is currently sending them to Venezuela, where around 35,000 young university-educated Cubans are currently working. The fact that Cuba sends all those young people plus an equal number to all of Cuba’s other missions abroad is a far greater “brain migration” than we have in Nicaragua.

What signals are we sending out?

Returning to the critical question of what the Internet can do in response to our country’s prevailing electronic illiteracy, Hopmann analyzes the call centers that provide fixed-income jobs to recently graduated professionals, citing the case of his own daughter. While she speaks three languages (English, Spanish and German), she only has a high school diploma from the international program at the German-Nicaraguan School. She works in the Ofiplaza call center in Managua, where whe earns $680 a month.

“In contrast, her brother is an agro-production systems engineer who graduated from Managua’s Central American University (UCA) and now works at two coffee farms on the border with Honduras, earning $580 a month. With a look of amazement in his eyes, Hopmann asks, “How is such a contrast possible? My son studied for five years in the UCA, speaks three languages like my daughter, did a great thesis including almost a year’s field work and lives in Nicaragua where agriculture is said to be the future. What signals are we sending out to young university students?”

The country is apparently telling its young people to forget about studying and that if they want to earn money they should go to a call center to exercise their English and minimum computer knowledge. As Hopmann exclaims, “It’s absurd to spurn any intellectual effort people make to get ahead. It’s a national illness! Much of the Internet’s usefulness vanishes because the country tells you that scientific work isn’t worth anything in Nicaragua. Is that going to motivate you to use the Internet? So what do you do, just pirate music, videos and chat with your mates in a cyber café? Is that where Internet’s usefulness ends? This isn’t the young people’s fault; the problem is an environment that tells you intellectual effort isn’t worth anything.”

We have 2,000 cyber cafés in Nicaragua, and they survive an average of 18 months, with some closing and others opening. Around 120,000 people use them every week, particularly to make the low-quality, cheap long distance calls that account for 60-70% of their owners fixed income. Hopmann thinks the cyber-café boom is due to the failure of the government and NGOs to establish public telecenters. Given that it costs around $12,000 to set up a cyber café, some $20 million is invested in these private informal businesses, which is far more than all public sector projects to promote the Internet in Nicaragua. As Hopmann puts it, “Many ants have silently contributed more than the governments of the past 19 years. Really, the governments haven’t invested anything in this kind of project.”

A country problem

It’s both curious and terrible to realize that Nicaragua is currently at the tail end of technology even though it obtained a domain in 1989, the fourth Latin American country to do so after Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, respectively. And it’s worth recalling that Panama’s Internet commission was headed up by Nicaraguans at the beginning. Nicaragua went online with the Internet in 1994 and appeared to be at the Central American vanguard, major players in the history of those leading the way with respect to the Internet. But we stalled along the path and were overtaken by all the other Central American countries. What’s the reason behind this stagnation? For Hopmann, the blame lies not just with government apathy to ICTs, but with the country as a whole.

But wouldn’t we be right in thinking that private industry has promoted the Internet’s development through its updating of cell-phone technology and the 3G service? “I wish it were true, but it’s completely false,” says Hopmann. “Enitel [Nicaraguan Telecommunications Company] simply copies the same private sector publicity strategy used in Mexico and the United States to sell its tele-products, but without the slightest intention of systematically developing the exploitation of the Internet in Nicaragua. Nor can we place our hopes in Cablenet, a consortium belonging to Carlos Pellas and Carlos Slim made up of a merger of the cable TV company called Estesa into Enitel. It has showed no interest in lowering its prices and promoting educational activities to exploit Internet use in the region.”

The problem in Nicaragua is not so much the high prices. Spending $30 a month on an Internet connection is less a question of whether one can than of whether one wants to. In 2007, not even 15% of the 180,000 families with favorable economic income were connected. In Costa Rica, 85% of families from this same social stratum with the possibility to do so are connected, demonstrating that it’s a country problem, not just a government one. There’s no real information culture in Nicaragua. The combined print run of the two main national newspapers (El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa) is less than 80,000 copies a day, and some 28-30,000 subscriptions are institutional. Only one in four “moneyed” families reads a newspaper. A look at the TV news ratings shows that not even 15% of Nicaraguan families with cable television are informed about or interested in what’s going on. Between 70% and 80% of young people are utterly removed from the information about their reality provided by the media.

“Families don’t appreciate the Internet. It’s a cultural defect of Nicaraguans,” says Hopmann. To contextualize the crisis, he cites the case of Finland and Greece, which have more or less identical Internet use. In both countries, there are approximately 14 newspapers per 1 million people. In Nicaragua the figure is less than 0.4%.

The “black holes”
of our national history

The Internet is the most important, cheapest and most used medium in the United States; more so than conventional telephones and cell phones. This means that the community of Nicaraguan immigrants in the United States is much more up to date on information about Nicaragua than those of us actually living in the country. “But be careful,” warns Hopmann, “obviously the Nicaragua they [the immigrants] perceive is the one presented by the media: the polarized, divided Nicaragua that isn’t always the truest Nicaragua.”

Nicaraguans in the United States take with them the same cultural defect they had here, and thus have the lowest Internet usage of the different ethnic groups in that country, even lower than African Americans, which reinforces the idea that our anti-information problem is a cultural one. The web page of Nicaragua’s La Primerísima radio station receives an average 9,000 hits a day, of which 9.19% come from the United States and 6.64% from Nicaragua.

More alarming still is how many Nicaraguans have given up on their country as a lost cause. Recent surveys revealed that 60% of the total population would leave Nicaragua if they had an opportunity abroad, a figure that’s even higher among the youth. There’s a need to promote a culture of information, debate and argument. Hopmann believes the problems are aggravated by a series of “historical holes” that exist in universities and secondary and primary schools. In Nicaragua, everything has been done to avoid debate and discussion in the classroom. The formal education systems have produced—deliberately in recent years—young people who don’t know how to argue or discuss an issue.

Hopmann mentions a concern born out of his own experience: “I was born in 1950. The Second World War had just ended. My parents’ generation was involved one way or another in that catastrophe. When we were old enough to ask questions—13, 14, 15 years old—our parent didn’t give us any answers. It was as if Germany’s history ended in 1933 and started up again in 1949, when Federal Germany was reestablished. What happened between 1933 and 1949 didn’t even appear in the school curriculum. That piece of history was torn out of our conscience by a feeling of accumulated guilt. But if you cut out a piece of a country’s history, you feel excluded from it and it creates an enormous vacuum among the younger people and you have to fill that hole in history on your own. Researching, asking and exploring the past took my generation at least 10 years. It was a hard job of national reconstruction. And that’s exactly what’s happening to Nicaragua after the social trauma of the eighties.”

Are universities arenas for debate?

What’s happening to us, Nicaragua’s present-day youth? Do we feel amputated by our own parents? Did they spin us a yarn and leave us half way down the path so they wouldn’t have to discuss the errors of the past with us? Hopmann argues that the non-discussion of that “black hole” in the universities is due to the fear of teachers and lecturers, the same fear his teachers had when he was in high school. Nazism wasn’t talked about for many years so people “wouldn’t go around traumatized,” but this had negative consequences and Hopmann’s generation had little idea of history. The same thing appears to be happening in Nicaragua with respect to Sandinismo.

Students need to re-conquer and reestablish the universities as arenas for debate, rather than for home-made mortars, and if the different positions lead to confrontations or clashes, then a teacher moderator should give each group the opportunity to present its arguments without being excluded or resorting to scorn, aggression or disrespect. As Hopmann laments, such a debate took place in the UCA at the end of the seventies, so “why can’t there be one in 2009? That’s something I don’t understand.”

Why are we bringing up the rear?

The countries leading the way in the use and exploitation of ICTs in the region today are Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with Nicaragua bringing up the rear. What keeps Nicaragua at the tail end, pushing it further and further back in the information food chain?

Twenty years ago, Costa Rica was at Nicaragua’s level in relation to the Internet. Nicaragua has 14,000 university graduates with the capacity to use ICTs, but many of them are unemployed and in the streets, while many of those who have work are earning low salaries in precarious jobs. The country currently has 140,000 university students, but if we turn the clock back to 1990 there weren’t even 20,000. In other words we now have seven times more university students and over ten times more professionals than in 1990, but Nicaragua doesn’t know what to do with them so they go out into a world of unemployment. The country has never had so many primary school, secondary school and university students or for that matter such a big—albeit still insufficient—education budget. So what’s to blame for our ICT backwardness? Why don’t we know how to exploit our telecommunications infrastructure?

According to a report by the Danish Embassy in Managua in 2007, the national infrastructure is modern and cost efficient. Nicaragua has 2,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable installed, which connect the country’s main regions to the ARCOS 1 underwater cable and the Central American Satellite Network Operational Center, located in Managua. We have better infrastructure than Honduras, so our problem isn’t a lack of infrastructure nor is it financial. Lack of resources has never been Nicaragua’s main obstacle. According to Hopmann, “There’s a need for a national model.”

The energy of youth can be channeled

One of the advantages young people currently have when it comes to changing our surroundings is precisely the presence of ICTs, which have evolved so much. “My generation had to produce flyers and use mimeograph machines,” explains Hopmann. “But you have much more efficient means at your disposal. By the way, one of the most popular sites is bacanalnica.com, a project by graduates from the German-Nicaraguan School, which provides a way for youth to express themselves. Why don’t you use the debate gateways you yourselves set up to debate? It gives you an essential tool that can be mixed with others, such as YouTube, to get this country moving forward.”

In June 2008, Enitel started to offer 3G service—a cell phone connection to the Internet—in Managua. Journalists recorded and transmitted the political events of November, following the electoral fraud, with cell-phone webcams. If journalists could report live using cell phone technology, why can’t young people use this medium to provide us a voice and start creating a different culture, one not decreed from the state, but born from the youth and the people themselves?

Nicaragua has always been motivated by its young people, but the powers that be have also abused this sector of the population a lot: they have been the cannon fodder in our country’s convulsed history. Hopmann remembers the Managua of 1970 and 1979: “The youth gangs were the shock troops of the final insurrection and that’s why in 1984 young people were given the right to vote at the age of 16.” It was those kids going around with contact bombs that changed the face of Nicaragua at that time. What is the youth up to at this moment? Young people with limited resources, which are the vast majority, are currently being criminally manipulated. “Instead of bringing them together to fire off home-made mortars,” says Hopmann, “they should be grouping them together into youth work brigades in the barrios, to build houses and be developed in the area of information and communication technologies.”

Hopmann thinks there’s an extensive capital of youth energy that is being poorly channeled, and that this generation of young gang members could be introduced to multimedia projects, as is happening in Mexico, Bogota or Sao Paulo. In those cities, the youth has been incorporated positively into society and into the appropriate use of multimedia and cell phone video clips. Why not think up a strategy and give a voice to youth gangs through the Internet, thus channeling their violent energies? “None of that’s impossible,” concludes Hopmann, “But it requires will and vision.”

A very difficult effort

To continue exploring our profound backwardness in the development of ICTs, I sought out someone who is younger, but with a long and interesting history working with the Internet. Alfredo Wilson is a self-taught informatics expert, who currently directs guegue.com, a pioneering project to provide hosting services and develop applications for the Internet in Nicaragua. Following an informal meeting with some of their friends in 1996, Alfredo Wilson and his brother came up with an initiative to establish an Internet service provider in Nicaragua.

Wilson tells me that opening a service like guegue hasn’t been easy in this country. They first opened the way through nicarao.org.ni and then IBW communications, then later tried to create a service provider, but it was very complicated due to the restrictions imposed by the Nicaraguan Telecommunications and Mail Institute (TELCOR). “They frequently came to inspect us as if we were teleports,” he recalls. “Obtaining the permits and authorization was a real headache. Enitel [formerly the state telecommunications company, and now a private fixed and cell phone enterprise] also bothered us for a long time, particularly after it was privatized.”

Guegue currently hosts the web pages of publications such as envío and newspapers such as El Nuevo Diario. “We have very clear principles,” explains Wilson. “We work with open source software: nobody uses Windows here, because we don’t have the money to buy the Microsoft tools when we have to develop a program. We feel that private software limits us and we’re completely dedicated to open source software. It lowers our costs and means our technical personnel has a very high level of experience.” According to Wilson, there are very strange restrictions on the radioelectric spectrum in Nicaragua. For example, frequencies that are free internationally aren’t free here, and rather than buy specialized equipment, the banks use the metropolitan wireless network frequencies. To a certain extent, the banks and TELCOR negotiate to stop people using these available frequencies with cheaper equipment.

Wilson also comments that it’s very expensive to use dialup in this country. “It seems to me that we have a very badly designed system of costs and communication; it could be much easier for people to access the Internet.” There’s very good infrastructure, but it’s very expensive. In Nicaragua the telephone rate is very expensive (around US$30 a month), although people also use cyber cafés, which provide cheap wireless access and offer young people a way to communicate with each other.

The internet’s logic and essence

Alfredo Wilson argues that just as there’s a point in the history of humanity that divided those who could read form those who couldn’t, we’re fast reaching the point at which humanity will be divided between those who have access to the Internet and those who don’t. That gap will get even bigger over time unless measures are taken to address it. “We should remember that the Internet changes the way people learn,” he explains. “At school they teach you in a very linear way, to follow the pages of a book until you reach the end. On the Internet you learn much more the way one thinks in reality: there’s no beginning or end. The web works in a much more associative and chaotic way, according to your interest at that particular moment. That changes the way of receiving knowledge, putting an end to the dictatorship of the teacher who tells you what, how and when you have to learn, so the learning process becomes much more enriching.”

It’s important to remember the beginnings of the Internet in Nicaragua to better understand the current access level. It was born as a system that wasn’t very friendly to non-technical people. At the beginning, it was complex to use and to apply it to produce and share contents. Also, very few people were connected. However, as it became easier to use it also became more massive, and now almost anyone can do a blog and produce content using gmail, without any major technical knowledge. “It’s an enormous jump that allows ordinary people to publish their ideas,” stresses Wilson.

Wilson’s view about the generosity of the Internet is very true, but what happens when too much information circulates there? How can this daily flow of news be controlled? He doesn’t think there can ever be too much information; thinking there can is like saying there are too many books. Regulating and controlling what’s published on the Internet doesn’t seem a very good idea, because it runs against the Internet’s very logic and essence.

“They’re a minority, but they
will be a factor of change”

The digital signature laws in Nicaragua are progressing very slowly; the electronic trade is particularly complicated and the regulations only complicate things further. Wilson adds that “the General Tax Division is going to charge you export taxes for trading information online. They also ask you for an enormous amount of requisites only met by BAC [Banco de América Central], Cemex [Nicaragua’s largest cement company] and the people from Farmex, who have telollevo.com.ni [an on-line consumer purchasing and remittance sending service]. But for common mortals like us, it’s almost impossible to get an electronic trading account in Nicaragua. Nor are there any clear regulations in this respect.”

Despite so many limitations, he is optimistic and calculates that there’s a growing minority of young people interested in and curious about ICTs: “I feel that there’s a generation of kids, really active youngsters, who are into the issue of open source software. Although they’re a minority for the moment, they’re undoubtedly kids who will be a factor for change. Most of them are in universities like the UNI [Nicaraguan Engineering University] or UPOLI [Polytechnic University], which offer technical and informatics courses. I recently had the chance to meet some of them in the Latin American Open-source Software Installation Festival (FLISOL), and they’re very intelligent. Many are producing contents, whether in social networks or blogs from Nicaragua.”

Wilson also proposes a number of measures the government could implement to improve Internet access and quality in Nicaragua: “I think there are only short-term initiatives that don’t include people with limited resources. They should promote sustainable projects. The state should encourage cyber café businesses and subsidize them like in Peru, Ecuador or Chile. There’s a need to change the legal framework for wireless Internet and large-scale data transmission. Major initiatives are needed for community networks and to free up radio frequencies to allow access to the wireless Internet option.”

“We’ve missed great opportunities”

Apparently, Nicaragua is experiencing the same as García Márquez’s colonel to whom nobody wrote. Its e-mail box is empty as nobody uses it. It has the infrastructure of a huge computer, but isn’t exploiting it. The country spends years waiting for outsiders to resolve internal problems, but nobody will ever be able to do so if it doesn’t take responsibility for surmounting its own crises.

To examine this particular problem in greater depth, I went to talk with the director of El Nuevo Diario’s informatics section, Víctor Ayala, who is also the networks administrator for Microsoft Mexico, an economics graduate from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and current director of the US newspaper La Voz de Iowa.

Ayala feels that the current government is continuing with the policies of previous ones. This is true not only of all aspects related to the macro-economy, where it is continuing with the same programs established by the IMF in 1993, but also in the area of promoting technology. “Many of us Nicaraguans expected changes, but there aren’t any. We were expecting the implementation of an informatics platform like in Brazil, but unfortunately there isn’t one. For example, the cyber-centers sponsored by telephone companies and implemented here by TELCOR have been going since the Alemán government. There are commitments from Enitel and Movistar in this regard, but they’re projects that have been almost ready since the OLPC [one laptop per child] computers were promoted over four years ago, and abandoned by their own designer since March 2008. Nicaragua has had great opportunities, but they’ve been badly exploited and it’s the young people who are most affected.”

The enormous differences between
the United States and Nicaragua

Ayala points to a great contrast in Internet use between the United States and Nicaragua: “I’ve been studying and living in the United States for almost four years, which hasn’t stopped me from staying abreast of what’s going on in Nicaragua, because the Internet is the whole ball of wax regarding communication. Newspapers are no longer produced in a boardroom or in the editorial room. All you need is to have Internet, know how to use the tools or establish the techniques to keep up to date and exchange information. We’re not talking about chat rooms or a simple messenger service like Messenger or Yahoo!, but information that requires a lot of weight in transport and communication terms, as if it were real. We’re talking about FTP or PDF. The social networks, along with cell phones, are the daily bread. Young Americans prefer to send a text message on their cell phones than actually call the person. That’s the environment over there, and Nicaragua isn’t so far from experiencing it.”

Ayala seems much more optimistic to me than Hopmann, but is he as realistic? Is the anti-information culture among Nicaraguans both in the country and abroad real? The figures on how many people are using the Internet in the United States and Nicaragua show enormous differences. In the United States they no longer base calculations on how many people are connected directly to the Internet, but on how many are connected per square mile, as in demographics.

This is one of the statistical and territorial transformations from the last International Telecommunications Union (ITU) convention. There are now “territories” in Nicaragua where connection to the Internet has doubled, for example around the universities and commercial zones of Managua, which offer free wireless service in a radius in which everyone can be on the same wavelength or connect to any other.

Developed and designed by young people

According to Ayala, “El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa are at the vanguard of this, to such a point that they are considered national institutions. It’s a shame the government doesn’t know how to exploit its tools to get its messages overseas. Just about everything said about Nicaragua abroad comes from these two media on the Internet. Both newspapers are reference points due to their good management of what’s going on in the news. The government should be a bit cleverer in this respect.”

How can Nicaragua’s information culture be changed, and what can be done to get young Nicaraguans more interested in the Internet? Ayala thinks young people are a source of development and change anywhere in the world. “The ICTs are developed and designed by young people,” he explains, “and the adults only approve or reject those projects. Where did the social networks like Facebook or Hi5 come from? Or iPhone or MP3? From young people, who have always followed closely behind technology. The person who developed the computer mouse in 1968, and who nobody took any notice of at the time, was still young. When Bill Gates developed OS—his first operating system, contracted by IBM—he was a teenager, experimenting in the garage at home.”

Letting kids experiment with technology on their own would be of great benefit to society. Ayala illustrates this point with his own experiences, describing how “they invited me to visit Google once. What’s going on there? Everything! It’s like being at a university, where everybody’s messing around doing their own thing, except everyone knows their obligations. The most interesting thing is that the best ideas emerge amidst all this ‘messing around.’ It’s the opposite in Nicaragua, where there’s no ‘messing around’ without drugs or alcohol involved. I think that if you give kids these technologies to do what they want with them—break them or take them apart and then reinvent them—it’ll be great. They’re capable of redesigning the www, and this has happened since the Internet emerged with Arpanet, with desk tops, with Bill Gates’ OS, or with the social networks that now exist.”

“There is a brain drain”

For Víctor Ayala, dependence and poverty are the two factors that most limit the development of ICTs in our country. “If you’ve gone a long way in Nicaragua,” he says, “and managed to put together a computer—and I’m saying this because I’ve had to do it—you have to look after it like the apple of your eye because some other guy will get hold of it and mess it up because he doesn’t know how to use it. He’s someone else who needs to learn, needs us to teach him or needs to teach himself. The same thing happens with the latest generation cell phone or the most beautiful woman; everyone wants her but their efforts make her disappear as if by magic. It’s the terrible need, the low level of experience, the dependence that makes us go backwards.”

However Ayala does believe that there’s a brain drain in Nicaragua, unlike Hopmann, who says it’s just repeated globalized rhetoric. “There’s a quite marked brain drain to neighboring countries such as Costa Rica. If not, why doesn’t the country have the infrastructure and capacity to cover that demand? Nicaragua is not economically viable enough to satisfy the youth population’s need.”

Important media to incorporate

Nicaragua should take into account all of the measures established and suggested by international organizations: those already pre-established by the International ICT Council, which were designed over five years ago, but which nobody in Nicaragua took any notice of; all those advised by the ITU; and all those advised by friends from the United States to facilitate low-cost connection. “I think business stinginess should be done away with once and for all,” argues Ayala, “and local telephone companies should be subjected to the international parameters, competing with those with the best service.”

He points to important measures the government should incorporate onto its agenda so we can survive in the intense information highway traffic: “The essential measures would include giving young people access to technology tools in their schools. The Nicaraguan government should do what the Brazilian one did: provide almost all public schools with OLPC and Internet. If you give children candy, they’ll eat it, but if you teach them how it’s made, they might get more interested in the machines. Governments, or people within the government, should think that one day they’ll finish, that they’re not eternal in this life, and that it’s the youth that will have the capacity.”

“That’s the future”

Ayala has an interesting opinion on the importance of tele-centers and the skilled labor in Nicaragua to use them, based on another personal experience of his: “I’ve been wanting to set up a newspaper for the United States from Nicaragua, but haven’t been able to do it, not because Nicaragua doesn’t have the skilled labor or technology to do it, but because I can’t find a partner in the US who’s capable of doing it. It’s ironic. And that’s where the need for tele-centers comes in. There’s more skilled labor in Nicaragua or in our countries than in other much more developed economies, but our labor is wasted because we don’t have the infrastructure to employ it! And that’s why they have to leave the country.” In contrast with Nicaraguan youth, the vast majority of Americans don’t have to pay anything to connect to the Internet. “It’s incredibly cheap and even free in many places,” explains Ayala. Young university students in the United States use ICTs in their everyday studies, in contrast to the vast majority of young Nicaraguans who are sidelined by the system, left helpless in the face of technology. “In the United States,” says Ayala, “the kids have limited their load to cell phones with Internet. That’s the future. They pay no attention to the computer with Internet at home. They feel they’ve got everything with their iPhone or Blackberry cell phone; they feel they’ve got the control in their hands. That’s now a universal trend and we shouldn’t just sit here watching it.”

Between home made mortars and computers

Nicaragua needs to strengthen the Nicaraguan Science and Technology Council, turning it into a ministry or institute with greater independence, rather than continue to treat it as the latest state body since it was created in 2001.

Although these experts contradict themselves over the country’s level of infrastructure, the fact is that we need to connect to the Internet and navigate as much as we can until we recover from the shipwreck we suffered so many years ago. Although there are opposing opinions over the youth brain drain and our capacities to catch up, they all agree that incorporating ourselves into the ICTs is the way forward.

It won’t be easy to change a culture in which insults, defamation and home-made mortars are the order of the day. We young people will have to mature in order to express ourselves in a healthier way in the future. We can’t expect the government to resolve our basic problems. It is in our hands to do something for this country and not remain suffocated by the ignorance and savagery of those who aim to lead through violence.

Changing mortars for computers won’t be easy. It will fall to us to fill in the holes of our own history, the one that started with our fathers and grandfathers. But doing nothing could cost us a future generation of virtual ignoramuses, which our children will regret forever.

William Grigsby Vergara is a graphic design student.

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