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The pride of Venezuela: A satellite called Simon

Text by François-Xavier FRELAND

Latest update : 2008-10-30

With help from China, Venezuela has launched its first telecommunications satellite, nicknamed “Simon Bolivar,” after Latin America’s great liberator. All eyes are on the country, and President Hugo Chávez is clearly enjoying it.

“This is a peaceful telecommunications satellite programme. It has not military goals, it was designed for purely social aims," says General Antonio Jose Nuñez, sitting in front of a scale model of the satellite, Venesat-1, nicknamed “Simon Bolivar” after Latin America’s great liberator.

Outside the building, Sukhoi fighter jets recently purchased from Russia take off constantly for training missions.

Cold war décor

The space lab – the pride of Hugo Chávez’s regime – is located at the heart of an air force base. In front of the first security check-point, a placard warns visitors: “Socialist fatherland or death”.

 

At the "El Sombrero" space lab.
Photo: François-Xavier Freland


“This is the beginning of a great Venezuelan scientific adventure designed with mankind in mind”, boasts Luis Holder, head of the satellite program.

Venesat-1 is expected to offer Latin America modern telecommunication means, such as broadband internet, high-definition television and mobile phone services.

“Venesat-1 will at last meet the needs and the expectations of Venezuelans”, Holder adds.

A quote from French sociologist Edgar Morin features prominently on the press kit issued by the ministry of popular power of science and technology: “Without knowledge, it is impossible to face global and fundamental problems.”

In Venezuela, if you are in Caracas’s most privileged areas, internet connections and mobile phone networks are fast and reliable. But in the rest of the country they are unreliable – and they barely exist in the “barrios,” or shantytowns.

Media gesticulation

In Venezuela, as in any other country, technological prowess attracts admiration. But those who do not support Chávez’s “21st century socialist revolution” suspect it might just be another media gesticulation from the president.

“Instead of launching multi-million dollar satellites, Chávez should renew our flawed electricity grid – we’re tired of constant power cuts”, says Juan, a shopkeeper in central Caracas.

With only a few weeks to go to the November 23 local elections, this technological success is an asset for the Venezuelan president.

Yet the project was designed, implemented and 90% financed by China. “English-speaking” Chinese engineers work the controls of the El Sombrero space lab. Around 30 Venezuelan engineers are expected to replace them after they are trained – in Beijing.

 

In a café, customers watch a live broadcast of the satellite launch. Photo : François-Xavier Freland

 

Date created : 2008-10-29

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