"Sí, Spain": A Case Study for Development and Diplomacy

José Luis Pardos <aj765@freenet.carleton.ca>
Ambassador, Embassy of Spain in Canada


The unexpected success of "Sí, Spain," the electronic cultural information service of the embassy of Spain in Canada launched on the Web in March 1995, prompted the embassy to share the experience of developing this kind of service with similar institutions.

This paper explains the philosophy upon which "Sí, Spain" was founded, documents how the program unfolded, provides an analysis of the program and offers some insights into future developments. The preparation and presentation of this paper has been in itself a source of inspiration to the effectiveness of the Internet to provide new opportunities for cooperative efforts. The multidisciplinary team in Canada and Spain worked almost exclusively over the Internet, allowing for full participation by all members of the team.

Systemic World Development

The systemic philosophy of Prof. Mario Bunge of McGill University (Montreal), as described in his books, World of Systems (Boston: Reidel, 1979) and Ciencia y desarrollo (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Siglo Veinte, 1982), emphasizes the fact that any kind of exercise in development, either institutional or grassroots, should take the following concepts into account:

Key concepts about technology and development include the following:

There is great potential for a digital electronic network to facilitate a coordinated action in all spheres of a systemic world development (biological, political, economic, and cultural). To implement these actions and foster future participation by all members of society it is essential for individuals, institutions, and governments to understand the role of these new communication technologies in our "global village."

These ideas about development are the founding principles of "Sí, Spain." This case study is one example of putting theory into practice, demonstrating how the Internet can facilitate development and open new doors for traditional diplomacy.

Origins of "Sí, Spain"

The right place at the right time with the right people

Ottawa's telecommunication expertise and infrastructure, due in large part to the many research and development programs at Canadian high-tech firms in the National Capital Region (Bell Northern Research, NorTel, Cognos, Corel, Newbridge, Mitel, SHL Systemshouse, etc.), provided a very favorable atmosphere for the professional and personal interests of Dr. Pardos, ambassador of Spain.

Support from academia

Credit must be given first to Dr. Robert Prichard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Toronto, and Dr. David Sadleir, then director of computing. These men advised Dr. Pardos in December 1993, at the presentation to the general consuls in Toronto of the Northern Telecom Program of Iberoamerican Languages and Cultures, to investigate the computer network advances taking place in Ottawa. On 13 January, Dr. Pardos met David Sutherland, director of computing and communication services at Carleton University and president of the National Capital FreeNet (NCF), and discovered how the embassy could become involved with the community computer network.

Creating an information service on NCF (1994)

The ambassador's objective was to implement an electronic information service for the embassy. This complemented the goals of NCF, and individuals from both organizations collaborated to produce "Sí, Spain." Factors essential to the embassy becoming an information provider were:

Migration to the World Wide Web (1995)

Almost a year into being an information provider on NCF, the access statistics for "Sí, Spain" indicated that information for Spanish citizens abroad was the most popular area of "Sí, Spain." It was accessed both locally and from around the world via Telnet connections to NCF. It was unexpected that this particular area would be serving an interest or need for information that was not currently being met. This prompted the embassy to consider expanding the reach of its information service. A migration to the WWW would allow the embassy to continue providing information at a local level while developing "Sí, Spain" into a more extensive, dynamic, and interactive information system for citizens of Spain, and other citizens interested in Spain, all over the world.

David Sutherland put the embassy in contact with Prof. Neal Holtz of Carleton University and Fred Williams of DocuWeb Information Services Inc., who provided the necessary expertise. At that time, diplomatic relations betweeen the embassy of Spain and the Canadian government were complex and difficult. The decision to create a Web server happened to coincide with the "fisheries crisis" between Canada and Spain in early 1995.

The fisheries crisis (March 1995)

The turbot war between Canada and the European Union and the seizure of the Spanish fishing vessel Estai, on 9 March 1995, were widely publicized on the Internet at the Web site of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DOF) at http://www.ncr.dfo.ca/ (at that time). This confirmed for the ambassador the necessity for the embassy of Spain in Canada to be on the Web. Three days later, the embassy placed a "Fisheries Crisis" area on "Sí, Spain," in NCF by moving the files from the Web server, which was still under construction. Several days later the "Sí, Spain" WWW server was opened on the Internet.

Coverage of the dispute by the national media in Canada focused on a single ecological and conservationist position. Daily reporting of the dispute by more than 30 worldwide radio and TV stations, broadcasting from St. John's in Newfoundland, and practically all the news agencies and newspapers in the world produced daily information on this issue. It is not surprising that from 12 March 1995 to the end of the conflict, the "Fisheries Crisis> area had one of the highest access counts in "Si Spain."

The months of March, April, and May 1995 were a turning point for the development of "Sí, Spain" as well as marking the first official use of the Internet during a diplomatic crisis by an embassy:

The next steps

Since the end of the fisheries dispute, the embassy has concentrated on developing a more personal presence on its server (home pages for Ambassador Pardos and Cultural Counselor Ricardo Mor), expanding IberWeb (a Web site dedicated to the 20 Iberoamerican countries) and incorporating more interactive elements into "Sí, Spain." By sharing its experience in the development of "Sí, Spain," the embassy has played a leading role among the diplomatic corps in Ottawa to introduce the Internet as a tool for diplomacy. On 5 October 1995, more than 80 embassies attended an Internet presentation "World Diplomacy and the Third Millennium," cohosted by Carleton University, the embassy of Spain, and the dean of the diplomatic corps. The presentation focused on how the Internet can help diplomacy realize its ultimate goal: to facilitate an information exchange among countries, cultures, and citizens and open the lines of global communication. Following the presentation, Carleton students helped diplomats gain hands-on experience in "surfing the Web."

Analysis of the information service


Since the inception of "Sí, Spain" on NCF, the objective of the program was to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the information services of the embassy by:

Migration of the service to a Web platform has not changed these objectives, but rather has allowed the embassy to expand the possibilities within each one of them, many of which were not possible on NCF. Specifically, the Web offered expansion to the Spanish-speaking world and the Iberoamerican countries.


Detailed access statistics have been kept for "Sí, Spain" since its transfer to the WWW. It has had more than 650,000 accesses in its first year. An "access" is the retrieval of one specific page or file and does not include access to any of the images. The United States represents 45.5 percent of these, followed by Spain with 5.1 percent and Canada with 4.1 percent. Users from more than 80 countries have visited the "Sí, Spain" presentation. Current detailed access statistics can be found at http://www.DocuWeb.ca/SiSpain/stats/.

Responses and feedback

Providing a service on the Internet has allowed the embassy to be more accessible to the general public and offer a level of service that would not be feasible with traditional communication media. Institutions, government agencies, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), companies, and interested individuals covering a wide range of professions from all over the world have sent more than 2,000 e-mail messages to "Sí, Spain." The breakdown of these messages is as follows:

Providing information

E-mail messages are sent from around the world, as "Sí, Spain" is the only Spanish embassy on the Internet. The requests concern general tourist information, importing and investing in Spain, how to make a reservation at a specific hotel, background information for a romance novel set in Madrid, where and how to apply for grants and scholarships, how to connect to the Spanish stock exchange, and even requests of a personal nature.

From Winnipeg, Canada, 6 August 1995:

I hope to be visiting this beautiful country in the very near future and was wondering if there is any way to find out if there is a list of INTERNATIONAL BRIGADE volunteers who are buried in THE VALLEY OF THE FALLEN. My brother was killed at Teruel and was buried in a farmer's field there but I have read somewhere that some of the bodies were exhumed and reburied in the Valley of the Fallen. I realize that this is a peculiar request after so many years but this has always bothered me that I don't know where my brother is laid to rest and it is only in the last couple of years that I am now able to maybe visit Spain and find where he is buried.

Exchange of ideas and information among individuals

Although many thought this service should be shut down during the fishing conflict, the embassy strongly maintained that open communication and expression were essential to resolving the crisis and kept "Sí, Spain" online. The fishing crisis was the topic of much online discussion via newsgroups, e-mail lists, and especially e-mail sent to "Sí, Spain." Messages came from Canada, Spain, and other countries, supporting and opposing the position of the Spanish government and expressing concern about traveling to Spain.

From CompuServe, 20 May 1995 (translated from Spanish):

Stop the visa requirements for Canadians visiting Spain. It is causing more harm than good.

From Canada, 25 May 1995:

I have previously browsed your Web site in preparation for a vacation in Madrid. Because I am a Canadian I contacted the Toronto Consulate by telephone regarding procedures to obtain a visa. I was advised of the necessary requirements. ... the documents were returned with a form letter advising the visas could not be processed because of the departure date. If Spain wants to harass Canadians with visa requirements and limit travel to your country, why spend money and effort on this Web site? I am going to spend four weeks in Europe with my family (four people)--but none of my Canadian dollars are going to be spent in Spain. Who are you harassing? My family or the businesses in Spain which have lost our patronage? I have been able to arrange my vacation so that I will be spending my money in France and Italy, but will the Spanish hotels and restaurants find alternative customers?

From Canada, 19 August 1995:

I beg to congratulate the Ambassador on his successful intervention through the European Community which led to the removal of that provocative fishing net from the Canadian National Exhibition. Long live Canadian-Spanish friendship.

From Canada, 16 September 1995:

I have been to Costa Del Sol in 1991 and 1994, and wanted to return in 1995 but was unsure of the feeling towards Canadian tourists. Can you tell me how the average person in the tapas bars and on the streets would regard me now, as well as any hostilities I might encounter at customs, border crossings, etc.? This is all very sad for someone who is not a fisherman, nor a government official, but who loves your country. Gracias.

The interactive language course and links to other related sights, many as a result of messages from the sites themselves, have made "Sí, Spain" a favorite "meeting place" for hispanophiles and especially for Spaniards living abroad. The responses stress the importance of the service in disseminating and preserving Spanish culture and, most important, allowing them to read newspapers from home every day!

From Canada, 19 August 1995 (translated from Spanish):

THANK YOU! I never believed my children would have access to such a rich source of information about their heritage. It is not easy to educate four children abroad and still keep them in touch with their Spanish roots. We speak only Spanish at home, but the rest of the time it is not so easy. Or better, it wasn't easy, as your Web page has completely changed the situation. You have made me feel proud to be a Spaniard. Thank you again for this service.

Facilitating cooperation among institutions

A large percentage of the e-mail messages pertain to education. Many teachers use "Sí, Spain" in their classes and have overwhelmingly asked that all information be available in Spanish and English and that there be more links to Spanish schools. "Sí, Spain" hopes to serve as a vehicle by which educational and other institutions can cooperate and collaborate in new ways.

From Houston, USA, 6 February 1996 (translated from Spanish):

I am a Spanish teacher in Houston, Texas, and would like to find a high school teacher in Spain who has students interested an e-mail exchange with my students. I want my students to "meet" Spanish students so they do not have such a negative impression of Spain. They don't learn anything in their history classes about the country after 1492. I try to teach them about Spain as it today, but they still have these ideas in their heads of the conquistadors. It is essential to let them meet and talk to "real people." I prefer my students to write in Spanish, but they can write in English from their computers at home. If they write from the computer in my class, they will have to write in Spanish! If the students there want to write in English to practice, that's fine. I hope you can help me. If you know anyone, please contact me at ...
(Note: José Félix Barrio, the education officer at the embassy, was able to put this teacher in contact with many organizations and individuals in Spain and the United States who were interested in a similar exchange.)

Institutional support

Initially there was not much support for the project within the Foreign Ministry. Several ministers however, have sent letters of support and congratulations (translated from Spanish):

From the president of Telefónica (at the time had to access "Sí, Spain" on NCF via Telnet), January 1995:

I want to congratulate all of you at the Embassy for this initiative to develop the database of "Si, Spain" and for making it accessible on a telecommunication network ... confirming the usefulness of those initiatives for a better understanding of the social functions of telecommunications ... I only hope that your personal effort will be shared and be profitable for all Spanish embassies abroad.

From the director general for cultural affairs of the Spanish Foreign Ministry, February 1995:

I am pleased to inform you that we are investigating the possibility that all our foreign missions will be able to access "Sí, Spain."

From the president of the Autonomous Government of Galicia, Spain, March 1995:

I am convinced that these types of government and the advanced technologies have to be contributing factors to help resolve the many problems of miscommunication from which society at large suffers, and are the root of most international conflicts.

From the secretary general of the Foreign Press Association June 1995:

We all [foreign correspondents in Madrid] consider "Sí, Spain" an optimal and efficient information resource on Spain. Many times the information we require would take days to locate here in Madrid.

From the Spanish minister of industry and energy, June 1995:

Once again I send my congratulations for your initiative to take advantage of the new developments in information technologies in the promotion of the many facets of Spanish life. I agree that these technologies will soon become the global means for retrieving information and providing communication.

From the Spanish minister of education and science, October 1995:

The Internet presentation for "Diplomacy in the Third Millenium" is something I have to thank you for, and also to congratulate you for the many successes of the program "Sí, Spain," a basic tool for promoting the culture of our country.

Difficulties and constraints

Two main barriers had to be overcome to install "Sí, Spain" on the Web site, especially at this early stage, in March 1995:

  1. Technological: It was a difficult process to find the "right" provider to convert the NCF files to HTML. Unsatisfactory responses from several private companies prompted the embassy to return to the university, where they were put in contact with DocuWeb Information Services Inc.
  2. Administrative: As mentioned before, at the beginning of this new experience, the knowledge about the Web was very scarce and even at the highest levels of their respective national administrations, many embassies found a real lack of proper information on the advantages of the Web. In our case, being the first embassy ever to set a program on the Web, even if the general lines had been already shown, in its NCF form, to Minister of Industry Eguiagaray during his official visit to Ottawa in May 1994, the most significant difficulties within Foreign Affairs were the following:

Future developments of "Sí, Spain"

Many of the developments of "Sí, Spain" have been in response to the feedback received from individual users, institutions, and related Web sites. Having a Web server has allowed the embassy to provide a truly dynamic and interactive information service. The plans for future developments of the service are:


Expand all areas of the existing information to create a multimedia database:


"Sí, Spain" is designed to serve as a meeting place for individuals, organizations, businesses, and institutions to facilitate cooperation, partnerships, employment, educational exchanges, and so forth between Spain and other countries.


"Sí, Spain" will become the worldwide information service of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Glimpses into the future

"Sí, Spain" is one example of a bottom-up approach in creating a diplomatic Web site. Many other working examples of this model are individually transforming society in their fields. If we look at them collectively, these transformations serve as indicators of the possibilities of using the Internet as a tool for "systemic world development."

NGOs' plans of action

After the last Euro-Mediterrean Conference, held in Barcelona, 27 November 1995, a parallel conference of more than 1,000 NGOs was summoned to draw specific plans for future Euro-Mediterranean dialogue. One of the participants, Pangea, a pioneering Web site serving NGOs in Spain, demonstrates how organizations are using the Internet to link NGOs' plans of action and individual projects and to disseminate ideas and facts about grassroots movements for international cooperation and social change.

Young Businessmen Association

During the European Council meeting in Madrid, 15-16 December 1995, the president of the European Union Commission, Jacques Santer, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Asturias chaired a meeting of the International Federation of Young Businessmen.

As this meeting occurred within the framework of the European Union Council of Ministers, young entrepreneurs attending the meeting felt that they would be able to actively participate in addressing the top priority of the European Council: youth employment.

The Asociación Madrileña de Jóvenes Empresarios (AJE) is launching a pilot project with funding from the regional government of Madrid in the amount of 18,850,000 pesetas (US$154,000) to cover hardware, software, and training costs. The project objectives are to:

For more information about this project, contact
Marcelino Oreja Arburua <defsl@ext.step.es>
DEF - 4 SL.
Principe de Vergara, 136
28002 Madrid, Spain
Tel.: 341.562-9853
Fax: 341.564-9591

Fully incorporate the use of Internet into the activities of diplomats worldwide

There are infinite applications of Internet and Web technologies. Yet keeping in mind the concept of "systemic world development," it is essential to foster growth in all four subsystems (biological, economic, cultural, and political). Embassies are in a unique position to be able to affect all these subsystems simultaneously. One example would be using the Internet to improve diplomatic cooperation between countries belonging to the same regional group (the European Union, APEC, ASEAN, the Euro-Mediterranean Conference, the Iberoamerican Conference, the League of Arab States, etc.) or other regional subgroups (the Andean Pact Countries, the Group of Rio, the Central American Group, etc.). The activities could include sharing information resources, improving trade relations, promoting and exchanging culture, and facilitating more open dialogue via a Web site that is open to input from both individuals and governments from these regions.


Many thanks to Dr. José Barberá of Fundesco in Spain for suggesting that this paper be submitted to INET'96.

The following people and institutions played a very active role in the presentation of this paper: