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Jorge Contreras, untitled

The new global models have given rise to a world of excluded people and world inequality, where the income of 1% of the population (the richest) equals that of 75% of the poorest. Around 10% of the richest people in the United States (25 million people) have as much income as 43% of the world’s poorest population (2,000 million people). The reality of globalization is that nearly 30% of the world economic exchanges are made among big companies and their affiliates in other countries, within the transnationals, for their benefit and growth. Another 30% is made among these big transnationals. It is a dialogue from monster to monster, the true definition of “inclusion”. Globalization is an effort of big economic powers that seek to eliminate national barriers to impose themselves and to expand freely with the logics of survival, basically implacable. The new global paradigms respond to the hegemonic interests of the big transnationals in their quest to control the world markets. These efforts concentrate the wealth in a reduced number of countries. The countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), with only 19% of the world population, concentrate 58% of the foreign investments and 71% of the world exchange of goods and services. The possibilities of development and “insertion” for poor countries are put forward in terms of its integration to the so-called “Society of Knowledge”. However, reality indicates that not only the differences in the world distribution of wealth have increased but also that this gap is also present in the distribution of and access to knowledge and new technologies. Knowledge is a matter of power.

Is science neutral?

Like wealth, science is divided into two worlds. Access to knowledge is far from being democratic. In spite of the steady growth of the world wealth, half of the planet’s population lives with less than two dollars per day and there are 876 million people that are illiterate with 64% of them being women. In the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, there are 42 million illiterates – 55% of them being women – who mainly belong to the poorest 20% of the population. Poor countries invest less than 1% of their GDP in I+D while rich countries invest between 2 and 3%. The number of scientists per every million inhabitants in developing countries is between 10 and 30 times inferior to that of the developed countries. Thus, Latin American and the Caribbean have less than 150,000 researchers, 3.5% of the world total, while the United States has around one million (almost 25% of the total), and 90% of those who participate in scientific and technological activities live in the seven most industrialized countries of the world. Nearly 91% of all internet users live in OECD countries. In addition, 93.3% of all internet users belong to 20% of the richest people and only 0.2% belongs to the poorest. [1] [2]. While reality shows that the advance of globalization and the advent of the alleged Society of Knowledge have only serve to increase inequalities, the new ways of thinking are based on ideals of democracy and freedom and upon the possibility of “inclusion” for the poorest countries in the new paradigms.

If power is interconnected with knowledge, the possibility of democracy and freedom, at world level, entail an egalitarian participation in its production, access, absorption and social use. But poor countries, with different degrees of development in their productive forces and relations, do not have enough capacity to participate in this process. And it is even more difficult when knowledge is used as an instrument of domination and not to “close the gaps”, in a context in which most of the “included ones” are their masters, the owners of knowledge, and the excluded ones are the majority who slowly begin to realize that it is impossible to integrate into that model. The contradictions of the speech of inclusion represent a danger for the ability to govern and peace on the planet. The speech of democracy and freedom is in crisis when it clashes against the reality of exclusion and when it shows its contradictions. They are worrying signs of the crisis, from the circles of power, social discontent in the face of clear violations of the speech, in events like the War in Iraq that shamelessly showed the fragility of the arguments and the validity of the principles that are supposed to direct political actions and support the “ethics of democracy and freedom”, and the relations that maintain the fragile world balance. One of the possibilities of “inclusion” lies on the ideas of “Science and Technology for Development”, science as a tool to fight poverty. Knowledge is the basis of progress, peace and world balance. In that sense, the World Day of Science for Peace and Development was declared by UNESCO in 2002 with goals that aim at new ethical commitments, the use of science in benefit of society, to eradicate poverty and in favor of human security.

Science for Peace and Development

Science for Peace and Development is an encouraging idea that denounces the lack of a world agenda on social development that should be promoted with regional plans of integration, thus far limited to the economic level. The new global paradigms respond to the hegemonic interests of the big transnationals, in their quest to control the world markets.

The idea that science is “neutral”, that the advance of knowledge should be free, as a creative activity that can not give in to politics or the economy, is a genuine stance. Especially in our peripheral countries it is essential to implement policies of scientific development that encourage social advances with more knowledge opportunities and that can be used in the fight against poverty and the improvement of the quality of life. Scientific activity requires directing polices to put it at the service of Peace and Development, at national and world levels.

Wars have required technology, they have required great efforts from outstanding scientists to create destructive instruments. The atomic bomb, submarines, missiles, and other technological wonders fed the cemeteries in the 20th century and they continue to do so in the 21st century. In the reverse direction, natural disasters have encouraged the understanding of nature. Geo-tectonics, volcanology, oceanography, seismology, and other scientific disciplines have witnessed the devastating effects of nature in the face of a surprised and impotent man that grows, thanks to the advances of science, in understanding nature and the organization of urban life, constructions and materials, in order to minimize the devastating effects of natural disasters.

In the first example, the need for science and technology is imposed by men in their irrationality that leads them to destroy their fellow men, the requirement is death. In the second case, the requirement is imposed by the eagerness to overcome that men face on Earth, the requirement is life. That is a great contrast in the use of knowledge! The powerful not always respect ethical principles that supposedly support the democratic ideals of equality, equal development and respect for human rights, especially in urgent situations. Ethics is a need for the oppressed and an option for the powerful, but, without strong ethical principles, we will never abandon the current prehistory of humanity.

Peace and Development are conditions enjoyed, in the new era of globalization, by only a minimum percentage of the world population. So that Science may serve as a tool to narrow the gap between rich and poor, concrete actions that bring the democratization of knowledge and equal access to the new technologies are necessary.

The ethical stance that entails the statement of science for peace and development is an advance in the face of traditional stances, represented by multilateral organizations that previously questioned, for example, the convenience of financing programs in the area of Science and Technology in developing countries. The basic argument, imposed after the Consensus of Washington, is that science is very expensive and requires big efforts and, as a result, it is only justified in developed countries, while the technology can be for everyone, thanks to the free market, in a world with a globalized economy.

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The truth is that, in the countries of the periphery, the new stance of science for peace and development should be embraced as a need. Even when we recognize the difficulties of globalization we can not hide our weaknesses behind an anti-globalization speech; rather, we have to build and take advantage of the opportunities relating to the resources of each country.

It is necessary to recommend, along with strategies of the accelerated exploitation of national advantages, the integration and strengthening of regional markets as well as a boost for strategies of democratization of globalization through the intervention and strengthening of international organizations in charge of the fight against poverty and the search for equality.

Like in other countries of the region, the implementation of initiatives that look for the insertion in the new economic paradigms have been taking place in Venezuela only for a short period of time and they begin with a purely formal process expository of national innovation systems that, in practice, has no real means of support in the development of the productive, social and institutional forces and its organization. The delay and exclusion with respect to the real innovation processes demands that the State begins to innovate in the formulation of new and creative policies, strategies and models of public management that allow, if not the immediate consolidation of a true National Innovation System (medium and long term goal), the strategic exploitation of the comparative advantages and strengths of the country to develop opportunity sectors and to strengthen innovative circuits, that already exist or potential, aiming at competing in the national, regional and world markets in the short term, and to achieve a rapid impact in the improvement of the quality of life.

Scientific cooperation and multi-polarity

The Venezuelan policy looks for multi-polarity beginning with regional strategies, agreements with OPEC, Europe, the G-15 and the G-77, among others, to boost alternatives of growth and the positioning of the country, extremely dependant on its main commercial partner: the United States. It is about consolidating accords that allow integrating comparative and competitive advantages in the region, in order to close the gap in the development levels among countries and to promote their competitive insertion in a more equitable dialogue with the First World. Unfortunately, the policies of “scientific cooperation” do not answer efficiently to these purposes. For many years they have dispersed in the formal establishment of many agreements, most of them inefficient in practice. Most of the exchanges are made with developed countries, and the mobilization of scientists at regional level is almost null. The cooperation agreements are conceived in terms of scholarships, “assistance” and financing, mainly of European countries. In many cases, they are made taking into account priorities that are not national which leads to the “brain drain” or the isolation of scientists that usually do their work with foreign laboratories ignoring the priorities of the country.

The mobilization in practically unidirectional, from Venezuelan researchers towards developed countries, lacking a real cooperation with an impact in the strengthening of the national capacities. Through the agreements, however, these countries take advantage of the Venezuelan talents, at very low costs, in the development of their own projects. With time, they also establish indirect tools of penetration thanks to networks of former scholarship holders who return to the country, that are potentially strategic for their expansion policies. Cooperation is asymmetrical. And the country has not been able to take advantage of its potential to strengthen its development strategies. The policies promoted in Venezuela since 1999 seek to turn into a reality the slogan “Science for Peace and Development”. Like in the international arena, at the national level this new ethical stance faces many obstacles and opposition.

Science and Technology in Venezuela

The Constitution of 1999, the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) the same year, the approval of the Organic Law of Innovation, Science and Technology (Locti) in 2001, among other initiatives, clearly show, for the first time in the history of the country, the political will of the Venezuelan State to value and use Science, Technology and Innovation as driving forces for social and economic development, and it was accompanied in 2001 with the largest ever budget for Science and Technology in the country, over 0.5% of the GDP. These policies showed the intentions of entering the so-called “Society of Knowledge” and adapting to the new world paradigms of organization and production, with criteria of social equality. This brought up, for the first time at the level of explicit policies of the Government, the need to promote a “culture” of Innovation, and to guarantee a propitious environment to develop it aiming at increasing the quality of knowledge and the competitiveness of the companies of the national productive sector and at improving the quality of life of the people.

This political will faces managerial contradictions and weaknesses and also a great challenge imposed by the real situation of the country, characterized by a big delay, at the institutional and social levels, in the face of the development requirements and the insertion in the Society of Knowledge. However, the comparative advantages of the country, essentially a petroleum-producing country and with plenty of natural and energy resources, allows us to be optimistic as to the potential role of the State and the implementation of the proper policies aiming at reverting this situation of socio-institutional weakness in a relatively short period of time.

In Venezuela, the obstacles to create an appropriate scenario for Innovation are the product of a situation shared with many countries of the Third World. We can cite: economic and political instability, low educational levels of the population in general (the average educational level of the Venezuelan labor force is only the fifth grade), the poor use or unemployment of the highly qualified human talent of the country, the institutional weakness in the sector of the Government, the low demand for science and national technology from the business sector and the government, the insufficient capacity of scientific and technological development accompanied by the sub-use of the existing offer, the poor development of networks of institutional, productive and social cooperation and, in general, the poor development of the social capital. The main problem does not seem to be the lack of public investment to face these obstacles. One example has been the investment in Science and Technology in Venezuela, that, until 1998, it was around 0.25% of the GDP, and in 2001 it significantly increased to more than 0.5% of the GDP. Although this investment may still be considered as low (UNESCO recommends 2% of the GDP while developed countries invest 3%), the truth is that, for many years, there was not any real impact of the public spending (almost all of the national investment as the private sector invests little or nothing in this area), or any significant improvement in the indicators that could show its concrete impact in the solution of specific problems or in the social and economic development of the country.

If investment is limited, it is necessary to include plans that may lead to short-term specific results, encouraging active participation in the productive sector. In this sense, since the creation of the MST, areas of immediate strategic development were established (not abandoning the offer and the strengthening of other areas, including those that traditionally have received support, like basic sciences), to attain results of impact in the short term. Mainly, efforts concentrated on the areas of Communication and Information Technologies (CIT), Energy and Food and Agriculture. The formulation and implementation of projects that deal with specific problems began in these areas with a change in the strategies and the objectives of the investment destined to:
- A) Encourage the demand for science and technology from public and productive sectors, and society in general, not abandoning the strengthening of the offer.
- B) Strengthening the capacity of the productive and public sectors and of society in general, for the production, absorption and use of knowledge, science and technology.
- C) Organize networks of social and productive cooperation. These networks are the necessary basis for the development of the Sncti, the basis for the strengthening of the Social Capital and a sep towards the productive, social and organizational changes that characterize the Society of Knowledge.

Innovation and Ability to Govern

In the development and implementation of these strategies for the execution of concrete projects we find another obstacle for innovation: the inadequacy of our public institutions and their low capacity of execution to implement policies and to respond to the new requirements of the environment. That is the origin of the imperious need to carry out a change of paradigm in the models of public management, strengthening the consolidation of flexible institutions, with the ability of dynamically adapting to the requirements of the environment for the implementation of their policies and to introduce the necessary changes in their organization to respond to this demand in an efficient manner.

In the face of the big difficulties of the government institutions, that have proven themselves incapable for many years, and their impossibility of showing visible achievements in the execution of new policies, the recent creation of parallel structures, along with the already existing ones (the “missions”, the proliferation of new State Ministries), represent an effort with generally positive impacts for their direct attention to the people, but with difficulties for their consolidation. Probably, instead of getting around the existing institutional weaknesses, these may multiply or strengthen, with the increase of the public spending, the dispersion of investment and the contradiction of tasks among institutions. We still have to mention difficulties relating to corruption, present in the country for many decades, that today seem to continue damaging the public action. It is urgent to carry out the transformation of the government organizations. This organizational change should respond to a new model of public management, in accordance with the desired objectives of endogenous development and global insertion.

The main role of the State is not formulating policies and implementing them in a vertical direction, consolidating the offer and granting public funds, but promoting the participation of all actors for the coordinated construction of policies and planning, coordinating their implementation, strengthening the offer, encourage the demand and to promote the participation of the private sector in the financing and development of activities of science and technology. It is a much more active role that requires institutional strengths for the promotion, negotiation, articulation of networks, monitoring of the environment and evaluation and follow-up of the management. This change accompanies a new model of production and social appropriation of knowledge based in the connection between offer and demand, in ways of organization that are more horizontal, organized in cooperation networks, with the intensive use of the social capital, the appraisal of human talent, the use of new technologies and innovation in all its forms.

This article was initially published in the Venezuelan magazine Question.

[1] Lema, Fernando, Society of Knowledge: New Challenges for Solidarity, Equitable and Sustainable Society Development , Dec. 2004, http://www.gobernabilidad.cl

[2] Genatios, Carlos and Lafuente, Marianela, Science and Technology in Latin America, OPSU editions, 2004).