Telecommunication Service in Latin America
modernization vs. privatization
In much of Latin America - as in most of the developing world - telephone
service is unreliable at best, characterized by low-quality connections and
long waiting lists for service. It is generally accepted that a modern
telecommunications infrastructure is necessary for the economic development
of a nation. At the same time, basic telephone service is now recognized by
the UN as a necessary service that should be available to everyone.
Many governments in the developing world (with advice from the World Bank
and the United States Agency for International Development) are implementing
plans for privatization of their telephone companies. It is hoped that
privatization will attract foreign capital and introduce competition,
thereby improving service. Some of the issues usually ignored is these
plans are universal access and worker rights (both taken for granted in the
United States) as well as the threat of an unregulated monopoly (always an
issue where independent regulatory agencies do not exist).
Wilmer Erroa Argueta is secretary of national and international relations for
ASTTEL, the union of telephone workers in El Salvador. The government of El
Salvador would like to sell the national telephone company to a
multi-national telecommunications corporation. ASTTEL is opposed to this,
and has proposed a detailed alternative plan for modernizing El Salvador's
On Thursday November 21, 1996, Wilmer spoke at MIT at an event sponsored
by TecsChange, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Telecomm
Policy Roundtable - Northeast, the MIT Thistle, and others. He gave a
history of privatization in El Salvador (including privatization of the
banks in 1990), explaind the current state of telecommunications service,
and described ASTTEL's alternative plan for modernizing the
Prompted by this successful event, TecsChange has started collecting
information on the state of telecommunictions around the world, with
an emphasis on privatization plans and the plight of workers. The
following is a list of articles on this issue.
Of General Interest
- Puerto Rico:
Over 100,000 march against privatization on October 1, 1997. (from
Puerto Rico News,
which describes itself as "An occasional electronic newsletter devoted
to opinion and commentary on current Puerto Rican affairs.")
- Peru: Telecommunications workers protest
at telephone company's new employment strategy. From ICFTU Online, a
publication of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
- LaborTECH 97, the
premier international gathering of labor technologists,
coming together to show, share and organize with the cutting edge
tools of the 90's: Internet, radio, cable, TV, and print.
Sat/Sun, July 12-13, 1997, San Francisco State University,
San Francisco, CA
- Proceedings from the second continental
telecommunication workers' conference, held in Tijuana, Mexico in
- A recent (May 1997) statement on universal
access to basic communication and information services from
the UN' s Administrative Coordinating Committee - ACC.
- Editorial - All-out competition or new social
contract? by Sid Shniad, Research Director, Telecommunications
Workers Union of Canada.
Related specifically to El Salvador
- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala began an international search
of buyers for their telephone companies, adding to an oversupplied
market where 25 state-owned companies are for sale, with only 10
prospect buyers on sight. IPS story, July 3, 1998.
Click here for the full story.
- Death threat against union leader. Please read and respond!
Click here for the action alert.
- Please fill out the following on-line
petition in support of fired telecomm workers in El Salvador.
- Newly-sworn-in legislature overturns
privatization law. "Theft of the Century" Held Up.(Alas, it
was only temporary.)
- Editorial on the Privatization Process
Proceso, a publication of the (Jesuit) University of Central America,
San Salvador, El Salvador.
- Memo from US AID official to El Salvador's
Presidential Commissioner for Privatization, dated September 2, 1996.
- Notes from a meeting between El Salvador
solidarity activists and US AID officials held in Washington, DC on
October 11, 1996.
- El Salvador's telephone company, ANTEL, is already announcing
closings of rural offices and suspension of
telephone and telegraph services, all in the name of "profitability."
- The new telecommunications law passed by
the National Assembly in September 1996 completely ignored the requests
and interests of communities and community radio stations.
- According to industry leaders, the privatisation scramble among
Central American countries looking for foreign buyers of state-run
telecommunications systems could prove harmful for the sellers. Click
here for full story.
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