THE COMMUNITY OF THE AMERICAS: VITAL CONNECTIONS

I. The Information Revolution

Our societies, our countries, our region and our world are being transformed by information and communications technologies (ICT) and the rapid pace of innovation and change. While e-commerce and economic applications of ICT are pervasive, this information revolution is also stimulating dramatic changes in our democratic and social institutions. New technologies are breaking down barriers, expanding dialogues and altering the nature of the relationships between government, the private sector and civil society. Digital opportunities have set the stage for new forms of engagement that will require government to reorganize to respond to the needs of empowered users/citizens and communities.

These changing relationships are affecting the social and economic welfare of citizens and their ability to strengthen and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. And these changes are inevitable. The hemisphere must find ways to take advantage of the great potential offered by ICT in a socially responsible way. Success will be determined by our collective ability to manage effectively the impacts of the information revolution, to provide access to knowledge and to create an enabling environment for the distribution of the benefits of the new networked economy. To this end, all citizens, regardless of age, gender, race, income, education, or ability, should be able to participate in information networks and use ICT as a mechanism to further existing initiatives that address disparities and promote development and integration in the hemisphere.

Our region is one of great diversity: we speak different languages; levels of democratic and social development vary; economic circumstances differ throughout the Americas; and, national levels of technical capabilities present both significant possibilities and serious challenges. These sharp contrasts are leading to a widening "digital divide" - a knowledge gap that could exacerbate other inequalities in the Americas. Despite these differences, our region has made a collective commitment to a set of shared values and has a strong determination to share a prosperous future.

At the First Summit of the Americas in Miami (1994), and again at the Second Summit in Santiago (1998), the heads of state and government of the democratic countries of the region recognized an obligation to promote socially equitable development and a strong commitment to the mutually supportive goals of good governance, sustainable economic growth and social cohesion. At the next Summit in Quebec City in 2001, the leaders of the hemisphere should examine ways in which information and communications technologies can be used as a mechanism to connect the citizens of the Americas and further the commitment to shared values and collective objectives.

II. Creating New Connections

Connectivity is a means not a end, a tool for human development, but not the solution to all human problems. Support for a connectivity agenda does not imply the abandonment of more fundamental development objectives nor a failure to recognize that those who struggle to provide themselves and their families with the necessities of life must be helped to meet their most urgent needs first. At the same time, the governments and citizens of the Americas are not confronted with a simple either/or situation. A commitment to development can and should encompass not only efforts to meet basic needs, but to ensure that the benefits of new technologies are more broadly shared and that opportunities to participate in knowledge-based economies are expanded. Following a narrower vision could risk denying those on the margins of our communities the chance to be brought into the economic, political and social mainstream.

Connectivity provides new ways of accessing and sharing information, creates partnerships between private and public sectors and allows for broader avenues of media literacy. Connectivity could establish a new democratic platform - a vehicle for democratic participation that uses technology to engage citizenry in a fundamentally different way.

Government agencies and departments at all levels have the opportunity to ensure more efficient and more economical delivery of their services. In turn, ICT can also promote greater transparency and accountability for governments through a more direct connection with citizens. These new connections will increase the interactive capacity of public agencies, helping to ensure that governments are better able to provide the services the public needs, and enhancing the potential for meaningful exchanges with users regarding improvements. Through the provision of affordable and equitable access to ICT applications, training, equipment, and a supportive regulatory environment, governments, their partners and the citizens of the Americas, can help to promote equal opportunity for meaningful employment, greater prosperity and social/civic benefits. There are two important elements to Connectivity: access and content.

  • Access

The integrative power of ICT to create new private/public networks will not be able to fully meet the needs of the citizens of the Americas without complementary development of the regionís basic systems and services. We must continue to develop physical infrastructure in the region and, in particular, support the development of modern telecommunications systems, as well as education, legal and regulatory infrastructures.

Within the hemisphere, ICT infrastructure varies from country to country. In those countries in which there is a limited infrastructure, there may be benefits to "leapfrogging" directly to new technologies. Countries not encumbered by existing systems could invest in wireless technologies rather than implementing terrestrial or land-based infrastructures. Countries that succeed in harnessing the potential of the growing information economy could look forward to removing conventional obstacles to infrastructure development, to meeting more effectively their developmental goals, such as health, sanitation, and education, and to benefiting from the growth of e-commerce and the growing dependence of all sectors of the global economy on ICT.

  • Content

There are different approaches to Connectivity. In determining which approach may be most appropriate for particular circumstances one must take into account the diverse languages, histories and cultures within our region and promote the inclusion of this varied content in our growing community of knowledge. In a knowledge-based economy, an active approach to the development of content focussed on topics such as education, skills training and the development and preservation of traditional and local knowledge, could help individuals become more active participants in the fabric of their communities, rather than passive observers of a technological system.

Connectivity promotes inclusion and addresses inequalities. The integrative capacity of Connectivity makes it a natural vehicle for the inclusion of remote, marginalised communities and the inclusion of traditionally disenfranchised groups- women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, the disabled - all potential beneficiaries of greater access to an information society founded on principles of free flowing information, mutual tolerance and respect for diversity.

III. A Political Commitment to Connectivity

In conceptual terms, a Connectivity agenda represents a means of supporting the evolution of the community of the Americas as a political, economic and social space. The ability of Connectivity to overcome distance and reduce isolation should be emphasized in this context as a practical means of bringing the peoples of a vast hemisphere closer together. In political terms, hemispheric leaders could endorse the principles and leading objectives of Connectivity either within the Summit Declaration or in a separate Declaration on Connectivity for the Americas.

This statement should first affirm the existence of a common commitment to democracy, cultural and social development and economic integration and the role of Connectivity as a means to achieve these ends. This principle should begin from the recognition that access to knowledge and information is fundamental to a democratic and prosperous society. Furthermore, it should be clearly stated that in increasingly integrated, inter-connected and inter-dependent political, social and economic systems, fostering the development of knowledge-based societies is the key to progress and prosperity.

Second, much of the success of a Connectivity agenda relies upon establishing effective partnerships among stakeholders in the information society. We must recognise the leading role to be played by the private sector. International financial institutions must also play a strong role in the development of connectivity by adopting new strategies to help marginalised groups and regions connect to the world economy, and by re-orienting investments appropriate to the knowledge-based economy. In the Declaration, priority should be given to identifying viable and reliable financial resource bases. Identified funding for access to ICT must be integrated into the policy agendas of national and international agencies.

The Declaration should also promote a new strategy to encourage innovation and technological advancement. With participation from industry, government and academia, new partnerships, between rich and poor alike, should be endorsed and supported. Developing countries need to further their political commitments to promote science and technology and in turn, international high-tech firms should be encouraged to increase their technical cooperation with developing countries and further develop telecommunications services and local and regional software applications in the hemisphere.

Fourth, the Declaration should underscore that leadership by national governments is necessary in providing an appropriate enabling policy and regulatory environment, (i.e. fair, transparent and predictable), to stimulate competition, innovation and investment while balancing the public interest with private need. To this end, governments must continue to focus on economic reforms, macro-economic management, provision of information networks, open environment for telecommunications systems, strong legal infrastructures, consistent approaches to taxation of business, including e-business, promotion of on-line delivery of goods, accessibility of government services to its citizens and rigorous evaluation of development projects that focus directly or indirectly on universal access.

Finally, in coordination with a Declaration/Statement on Connectivity, the leaders will also wish to consider post-Summit follow-up to Connectivity in the Americas and the means whereby political commitment is translated into ongoing action. Follow-up should be based on actions that are practical and seek to encourage new ideas and new ways of solving traditional problems, leaping over the barriers that have hindered human security and economic growth.

IV. Connectivity in the Summit Agenda

Emerging from the Summits of the Americas in Miami and Santiago, the leaders of the Americas endorsed Declarations and Plans of Action which stressed the significance of strengthening our collective commitment to democracy and human rights, to promoting liberalized trade and economic integration, and to more fully addressing a social dimension. At the 2001 Summit of the Americas, the leaders of the hemisphere aim to further these goals and strengthen the commitment to Summit processes. A Connectivity agenda offers a powerful tool for supporting ongoing work and new initiatives. The following examples demonstrate some ways in which our innovative use of ICT could act as the integrative means to achieving the hemispheric communityís shared objectives:

Strengthening Democracy

Our collective commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law is central to the Summit of the Americas process and must be the focus of our ongoing efforts to provide a durable foundation for hemispheric integration. It is people and their ability to access and generate knowledge that will permit nations to consolidate democratic processes and institutions and exercise legitimate political power. For citizens, Connectivity has a direct relationship to the strengthening of regional and national democratic infrastructures. A Connectivity agenda could:

  • develop national and regional portals for information exchange/establish an inventory and share best practices on governance
  • promote efficient delivery of government services, increased interaction between government and citizens and thereby increased transparency in government services (Government On-Line)
  • develop on-line electoral procedure guidelines/best practices
  • strengthen capacity of institutions concerned with women, children, indigenous through links and web sites
  • provide direction to human security sectors with regards to ICT and transnational crime (Justice Ministers on cybercrime, CICAD on money laundering, Inter-American Childrenís Institute on exploitation of children)
  • incorporate new technologies in action plan for security sector
  • establish links between civil society levels of local, national and inter-American processes / on-line information exchanges
  • foster confidence and security building measures, and regional security transparency.

Creating Prosperity

In the global economy, unequal access to information and communications technology will increasingly separate the rich from the poor. Providing equitable and affordable access to ICT provides the best opportunity for developing countries to leverage their economic potential and to integrate into the global knowledge economy. A Connectivity agenda could:

  • promote cooperation on best practices on e-commerce development
  • support Trade Related Technical Assistance programs
  • encourage new partnership activities to address economic disparities and access inequalities - possible activities could include programmes for specialised research or assistance in the form of grants, loans and technical assistance
  • strengthen disaster relief and regional climate change programs through ICT
  • sharing of best practices among our labour sectors (Meeting of Ministers of Labour)
  • strengthen existing networks of expertise and build new resource bases through training programmes and mentoring of ICT entrepreneurs in the Americas / job creation
  • provide capacity to establish new voluntary codes of conduct for industries affected by ICT (e-commerce, telecommunications)
  • further research on extending telecommunications infrastructures, wireless technology, satellite technology and the applied use of this research on developing regions
  • increase cooperation in telecommunications infrastructure development and regulatory activity
  • exercise leadership in providing an appropriate policy and regulatory environment (liberalization of telecommunication service market) to promote affordable and equitable access

Realizing Human Potential

By actively integrating and interacting with institutions and organizations locally, nationally and regionally, Connectivity in the hemisphere will enable the citizens of the Americas to have the opportunity to become empowered, to participate in the improvement of their quality of life and to directly interact with social service providers. Democratic, social and economic freedoms are intertwined. Supporting economic freedom will assist the attainment of democratic and social goals. Connectivity would support skills development and favour the inclusion of individuals who are unemployed or under-employed. A Connectivity agenda could:

  • promote distance learning
  • allow access to the same type of information and enable those individuals to access skills development tools that may prove useful in getting them out of the cycle of short-time employment
  • promote and provide opportunities for youth training and employment in the ICT sector
  • integrate ICT training and experience and informal education systems
  • increase cooperation among health sectors - PAHO - specifically with regards to the use of ICT and disease prevention and control ( tele-health)
  • exploit the potential of ICT for health promotion campaigns (Tobacco-related illnesses, transmittable diseases)
  • employ measures to facilitate the specific needs of women, children, indigenous and other vulnerable groups by mainstreaming access to the information society/economy
  • engage in work that promotes local skills, traditional knowledge and cultural diversity
  • establish measures to facilitate a critical evaluation is what is being transmitted via new technologies
  • enable citizens to acquire job-related skills, as well as provide them with tools to facilitate lifelong learning.