U.S. Election 2020 - Views From Abroad

Trump To Bolsonaro To Salvini: A Populist Aversion To Face Masks

The deputies Maurizio Lupi and Vittorio Sgarbi (the first with a protective mask and the second without).
The deputies Maurizio Lupi and Vittorio Sgarbi (the first with a protective mask and the second without).
Alessio Perrone

MILAN — In our pandemic times, face masks are politics. Last Thursday, the debate arrived with fury at the Culture Commission of the Italian parliament. "I won't be gagged and I won't wear it!" barked Vittorio Sgarbi, a Parliament member from the center-right Forza Italia party. The obligatory face mask policy inside the Parliament, he declared, was "blackmail." Sgarbi's invective followed another incident two days earlier, when the leader of the far-right populist Lega party Matteo Salvini was criticised live on television for posing for selfies without a mask, La Repubblica reports. "Am I allowed to lower the mask to speak to a woman?," he retorted.

Such political hay is stirring around masks in multiple countries, even as a consensus is growing among major scientific institutions that face masks can indeed curb the spread of the coronavirus. The most recent study on the topic — by the Universities of Cambridge and Greenwich — suggests that masks could be more effective than lockdowns to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.

In southwestern Germany, the far-right AfD leader Alice Widel attended a demonstration without a mask, Bild reports. Like her, the hundred or so demonstrators rallied without one, although keeping a distance.

With hugs from Bolsonaro

In Brazil, the country with the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, President Jair Bolsonaro has been attending official events and meetings without a mask, hugging and taking photos with people, according to Correio Braziliense.


Trump tours new face-mask factory but does not wear one. — Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House/ZUMA

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump seems to see masks as a question of pride, and vanity. In an April press conference announcing CDC guidelines that included a recommendation to wear masks, Trump… did not wear a mask: "I don't think I'm gonna be doing it." Later his team publicly mocked Joe Biden, the Democratic Party's nominee for the 2020 presidential election, for wearing one.

Back in Rome, after the scene in the Commission hearing room, Sgarbi was mask-less again before the entire Parliament. The president of Italy's lower house Mara Carfagna ordered him to wear a mask multiple times. When he refused, she sent the parliamentary officers to force him. "Wear it," she said. "We don't have 629 fools here and one intelligent man."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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