TIJUANA - The sinister stairs seem to lead down into a small hell. Illuminated with red lights and beating to the sounds of hard rock music, the air hangs with the smell of marijuana and sweat in a sticky cloud that engulfs everything. The destination is the basement, which has become one of the most famous bars in Tijuana expand=1]. Outside, there is a line of seedy bars that charge $5 to dance one song. There are also bars like the Hong Kong and the Adelitas, where strippers get tips of up to $100 for unmentionable services.
Still, at sunrise everything will look different. A workday in Tijuana can be just as charged as the nights, but it has nothing to do with sex and tequila. The medical manufacturing industry in this famous border city employs 30,000 people, working for 41 different companies. There are 29 aerospace firms, employing more than 7,300 people. Tijuana is also the number one Mexican town for the textile-manufacturing sector.
In spite of this dynamism, there is not enough work for everyone. That’s why thousands of Mexicans still cross the border into California every day.
This is the case for Frank, a journalism student who works in the outlet stores on the other side of the ‘line,’ as people in Tijuana call the border. Until three months ago, he had to leave his house two hours before he started work, although his job is located only a 15 minute walk away from the line.
The line separates what is really one urban area formed by Tijuana and San Diego, whose joint population is more than 5.2 million.
The U.S.-Mexico border in miniature - Photo: tj scenes
Since the NAFTA free trade agreement signed in 1994, this dual urban area has become one of the most important commercial hubs in the United States, and the most active border in the world. It’s estimated that every day, 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians cross the border. Before crossing, it’s recommended that people check how many people are in line, and there are specialized businesses that do just that. The line numbers are transmitted over the radio and by hotline. On an average day, at 9 A.M., there are more than 1,000 pedestrians waiting and an average of 260 cars per gate, more than 3,000 cars in total. Even at midnight there is a line of cars waiting.
In the morning the desert heat is already intense. The pedestrian line seems endless, but locals say it is the fastest way to cross.
According to Bruno Ferrari, Mexico’s economic Secretary, "Tijuana is one of the most strategic locations in the country." The city has been able to take advantage of both its proximity to the ocean and to the United States. It’s less than three hours away from Long Beach, one of the most important ports in the United States in terms of trade with Asia.
Changing migration patterns
But there are downsides too. According to academic studies, the regions around the U.S.-Mexico border are among the most depressed in Mexico. Eliseo Diaz, who has written several reports to that effect, says, "Maybe San Diego is the exception. But right next door is San Ysidro, and that is an impoverished area." Still, the differences in wages can be a powerful incentive to cross the border, even semi-legally, with a tourist visa. In Mexico hourly wages are $0.59, while in the U.S. they are between $7 and $10. So students and young people cross the border to work as nannies and gardeners, well paid work in the land of the stars.
There are also those, like Frank, who have U.S. citizenship and a specially border pass called a Sentry Pass, which allows him to skip the line and cross the border in five minutes.
In fact, Frank’s situation is pretty common in the border towns. His parents decided to give birth on the other side of the line to give him a chance at a good life.
San Diego’s economic strength, where unemployment is a couple of points below the California average, is still a strong attraction for the residents of Tijuana, but it can also give context to the changing migration patterns.
A study by the Pew research center determined that illegal immigration from Mexico practically ended in 2010, and that the recession in the U.S., which has especially touched the construction industry, decreased the country’s attractiveness for illegal workers. The change is that there has been an increase in the amount of legal migration between the two countries. Tijuana is a good example of that, because it is an area where jobs are being created on both sides of the border.
The city has a number of new foreign companies opening and hiring workers as well as several homegrown companies that are expanding. Many leading business leaders and professionals have their heart in Tijuana but work and own businesses on both sides of the line.
Tijuana still has an image problem, one that has been fed by books and movies for decades. But in contrast to Mexico’s other cities, the violence in Tijuana is clearly decreasing. This might be explained by the fact that new narco-trafficking cartel, called Sinaloa, took over in the city. They’re not doves, but they are more business-like and pragmatic then their rivals. They don’t turn to kidnappings or extortion, and use violence only as a last resort. Some say they have a truce with the government.
Whether or not that is true, Tijuana is not the bad girl it used to be. Now it is a working girl trying to get ahead.
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.
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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