REUTERS: "Poor South American Nations Outfox Y2K Critics" - 'they fell victim to Y2K hype and forgot their big advantage -- not having many computers.' : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Tuesday January 4

Poor South American Nations Outfox Y2K Critics

By Andrew Hay

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Y2K gurus foresaw possible computer chaos Jan. 1 in South America's poorest nations but did not count on their low-tech, canny skills helping them enter 2000 unscathed, industry analysts and regional officials said Tuesday.

From the White House to Wall Street, Year 2000 watchers pegged poorer nations in Latin America as some of those most likely to see Y2K-related infrastructure failures.

But countries like Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia defied critics, winging Year 2000 preparations with home-made, eleventh-hour fixes.

Paraguay shocked the world in September when it said it had started to fix the bug too late and would see water, telecom and power supplies disrupted. But Paraguay Year 2000 planners say they fell victim to Y2K hype and forgot their big advantage -- not having many computers.

Low Tech - Low Y2k Problems

Most of Paraguay's water system is controlled by hand, there is only one telephone line to every 11 inhabitants of the capital city Asuncion and relatively little of the electric power system is computerized.

``All the other countries did a lot more work than we did,'' said Paraguayan Y2K coordinator Carlos Bareiro, 32, who as of Jan. 3 had reported no Y2K glitches in his nation of 5.1 million. ``We're not that dependent on technology.''

In July 1999, the United States and many Western European nations, after up to nine years' work, all but declared victory against the Y2K computer problem and its ability to crash computers not prepared for the date change.

White House Y2K czar John Koskinen said he expected problems to crop up in developing nations that left fixes so late that they had no time to test systems before Jan. 1.

In Paraguay the state telephone company Antelco had just started to fix its Year 2000 bugs while the state electric power company only started in January -- woefully late by U.S. and European standards.

Y2K expert Harris Miller said he saw governments adopting a ''wait and see'' mentality on Y2K. He said most fix-it work was being done in the private sector, often on a regional level.

``I think it is fair to say that Paraguay had not chosen to fix its problems,'' said Miller, president of the U.S.-based World Information Technology and Services Alliance, a group of 39 high-tech associations around the world. ``Clearly in some developing nations, resources can either go to reducing poverty and increasing education or to a new (Y2K certified) flight control system that may or may not need replacing.''

Communication Breakdown

Still, Jacqueline Herrera, who coordinates Ecuador's Y2K efforts, said her Andean nation faced very real problems and overcame them: When President Jamil Mahuad entered power in late 1998 the previous government had done no Y2K work.

``This was a real problem, not an invention,'' said Herrera.

Herrera does not know where some Y2K think-tanks and research firms got their skeptical information on Ecuador. She said no international institution ever contacted her office.

Still, technology research firms complained in 1999 they had heard nothing from some nations until December.

``People assumed no news was bad news,'' said Miller.

Up until June, most developing nations were steadfastly against reporting on Y2K preparedness as they feared it would only alarm jittery investors, said Lisa Pellegrin, a spokeswoman for the Washington-D.C.-based International Y2K Cooperation Center. She said that changed when her United Nations-backed agency convinced nations that saying something was better than saying nothing.

Pellegrin said she was confident Latin America's critical systems would ride out Y2K, but she is still worried about small businesses.

``Not everyone is as dependent on technology as the United States,'' she said


-- John Whitley (, January 05, 2000

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