A few days ago we were all surprised by a document leaked at CableGate, exchanged between the US embassy in Brazil and the American Government in 2007. According to this cable, Microsoft made serious accusations against the Brazilian government, and despite of the attempt to play the ’silly Microsoft’ at the meeting, they indirectly asked for an intervention of the American Government to halt the spread of ODF in Brazil, to win the Brazilian support for the approval of OpenXML in ISO, to halt the partnership between the Brazilian technical committee and other committees discussing the international standard at that time, to reduce the influence of Brazil in the international debate on OpenXML, and also to accuse the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Brazilian Presidency’s Civil House of being anti-Americans. Worse than that, they also suggested that ODF is an anti-American standard!
I was involved up to my neck with all that was happening at that moment, and I have here all the details from the “behind the scenes” that caused the meeting between Microsoft and the U.S. Ambassador and I can say categorically: YES, it was a veiled request for intervention.
As an initial clarification, the XML mentioned at the document is the OpenXML (Open could have been erroneously suppressed by those who wrote the report the meeting).
To contextualize the document, it is important to remember that we started working on the evaluation of OpenXML in Brazil in early 2007, and voted ‘NO’ to the standard approval in September of that year. The result of that ballot was the rejection of the standard with more than 3,000 technical defects noted. Yet, surprisingly, the SC34 decided to schedule a five days meeting for March, 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland to ‘discuss the more than 3,000 technical problems’. This meeting was called Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) and there is ample documentation here in my blog about it and its final result, of surprising change of votes and approval of the standard.
Let me make clear here that I don’t believe that this meeting between Microsoft and the major representative from the American Government in Brazil has been a personal initiative of Mr. Michel Levy, but for me it was an corporative initiative. Even being a Microsoft employee, Mr. Michel Levy is a Brazilian, and I prefer not to believe that he has, on its own initiative, decided to start an initiative to put the American Government against the Brazilian Government, thus violating our sovereignty and our national technical merit.
The first question that I leave here is on how many other countries that voted NO to OpenXML the same kind of initiative also happened, and how much of these countries “have accepted” an eventual intervention by the U.S. government.
Yes, the intervention may have occurred, because if you notice the general line of argumentation used here in Brazil, the national technical decision is presented as being an initiative against the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), and one of the things that cause retaliation in free trade agreements with the United States are eventual IPR violations. I have my own collection of rumors from the times of OpenXML, where possible sanctions motivated by IPR violations were brought to the negotiation table to get the governmental votes in some countries (if your country has changed the vote after the voting in September 2007, please investigate and you will probably find a ‘key’ governmental role on that vote changing). Maybe one day, WikiLeaks could help us to investigate that too!
Still on the motivation of the meeting, I think it is comic that in the last paragraph of the document, is written that Microsoft was not asking for any governmental advocacy on the issue, and I doubt we would see in diplomatic circles documents like this one something like “Microsoft came asking for help in the name of God, because these damned South Americans natives are ruining everything !”… If it was not for help, why they had that meeting? Perhaps the American Ambassador is a psychologist specialized in international corporate frustrations? Is he a secret blogger of an international gossip website ? If he gave ‘advice’ for free to Microsoft in Brazil, can he also give me the numbers of the lottery if I ask ?
Back to the document, I am greatly angered to see Microsoft claims that the Brazilian government was pressuring ABNT (Brazilian National Body and Standards Organization) to adopt ODF. Microsoft was a member of the ABNT’s committee at the time, and I have here the minutes of a meeting where the company agrees to open the ODF adoption process in Brazil. I was responsible for that process inside the ABNT and rely on the collaboration of various government agencies and private companies, following all the internal rules of ABNT, without any pressure and worst of all: the whole process was done with Microsoft’s monitoring, which was a committee member and chose not to help us with the work of translating the standard into Brazilian Portuguese.
Microsoft knew at that time that Brazil has a tradition inside the ABNT that we don’t adopt international standards in Brazil if we voted against the standard approval at ISO. In other words, if the tradition is kept, OpenXML will never be adopted in Brazil! (And this, at the end of 2007, was a catastrophe for the company, who was playing as hard as they could to get the ISO stamp at OpenXML).
To make their situation worse, the exchange of information between members of technical committees that evaluated the OpenXML was constant, and seeing that Brazil had taken a NO vote technically well grounded, it was natural for us to to start receiving requests for assistance of various members other committees. I really lost the count of the number of people and committees with whom I corresponded during those months. Of course it bothered too much the company, because we distributed argumentation points out there, for which Microsoft would never have an acceptable answer, and this sharing had contributed to complicated even more their tries to manipulate the game worldwide.
I will not comment here on the accusations made to the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but I’ll only state that the if our Ministry has manifested his position internationally at that time, this was a sovereign decision and should be accepted by all (and accept doesn’t means to agree or to approve). Working against such a position is to work against Brazilian national sovereignty, and this is unacceptable!
I find it interesting to see how the world turns, and see that people accused by Microsoft of being anti Americans, are currently the Minister of Defence (Celso Amorim) and our President of the Republic (Dilma Russef), which was also accused of being against intellectual property rights. I’m hoping that the staff of both read the document, so they can show to them the image that Microsoft Corporation have of both!
Finally, they try to insinuate that the ODF is an anti-American standard. I confess that I would like to know what IBM, Oracle, Google and Red Hat (and other North American companies) think about the that, since they work hard on the past years on its development and worldwide adoption. Actually I prefer that these companies explain directly to the American Government if the ODF is anti-American, and I still hope they ask clarification from the American Government about Microsoft’s similar initiatives in other countries during the 2007 and 2008 years.
For those who did not follow the whole story, the ODF was adopted in Brazil, OpenXML rejected here and just didn’t had a major role on the international scene, because we were silenced on the last day of the BRM, just when we would submit a proposal that could change the end of this history. I’ve already told this story here.
Special thanks to WikiLeaks, for helping us get the skeletons out of the closet. For those who want to understand how Microsoft deals and negotiates with governments that have pro-FLSOO policies, it’s worth reading this other cable here. Have fun with it!