CARACARAÍ â€" When a 21-year-old indigenous woman gave birth to her fourth son in this small settlement in northern Brazil, she noticed that the newborn was suffering from a malformation in his leg. She knew what that meant, but still consulted with the leaders of her Yanomami tribe in a desperate hope for an exception.
It was not to be: the baby was burned alive as part of a ritual, and the ashes were used to prepare a sort of gruel that was offered to all members of the tribe. Though the mother shared her grief with her immediate family, she said she understood that this was the tradition.
The death of infants, usually until six days of life, is said to be common practice among Yanomami tribes, which have only recently come into contact with the rest of society. It occurs, in most cases, when the child is born with some physical deficiency. But there are also cases of infanticide among twins, or when the mother is suspected of having committed adultery or when she was raped.
For sociologist Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, author of a study titled Violence Maps, the deaths of indigenous babies, although linked to cultural traditions, is no less than murder. â€œWe shouldnâ€™t criminalize Indians, but we have to do something to save these lives,â€ Waiselfisz says.
Practice and practicality
Ozélio Macuxi, the 49-year-old official secretary for Indian affairs for the Brazilian state of Roraima, disagrees. He says the infanticide practice is mostly a survival technique for these often nomadic tribes. â€œHow are they supposed to carry somebody who is physically disabled through the forest? Theyâ€™d rather eliminate them straight away," he says. "Thatâ€™s how I understand this ritual."
In some tribes, the infants are smothered to death. â€œItâ€™s the motherâ€™s decision,â€ explains Jonas Yanomami, 41, who lives in a settlement in Barcelos, in the Amazonas state. In two years, 96 deaths have been registered among indigenous babies up to six days old in three settlements (Barcelos, Caracaraí and Alto Alegre), according to the 2015 Violence Map. But Waiselfisz says it's impossible to know whether the number has been higher in the past, because no such statistics were ever collected.
For Jonas and Ozélio, the death of babies is part of the cultural identity of these indigenous populations, and white people donâ€™t have to understand it. But the issue has nonetheless finally made it before the Brazilian Senate, with a draft bill that would make it a crime for anyone, including NGOs and Indian protection groups, who fails to report infanticides or indeed any other act that affects the health and well-being of members of these tribes.
Suely Campos, the governor of the Roraima state, says that she often isnâ€™t even informed about the deaths. â€œThis is a matter that begins and ends in their village.â€ The draft bill â€" known as the Muwaji Law, in memory of a mother from a Suruwaha tribe who refused to let her crippled daughter be killed â€" has already taken eight years to be approved by the lower house of the Brazilian Congress.
The Brazilian Anthropology Association and NGOs close to the Indians have been denouncing the project as one that removes a long-held guarantee that their identity would be preserved. Theyâ€™re also critical of the fact that those in favor of the legislation havenâ€™t asked those concerned for their opinion. â€œWhy is it that Congressmen are discussing this without even consulting the indigenous?,â€ asks Maurício Yekuana from the NGO Hutukara, which protects the rights of the indigenous.
Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima, president of the Brazilian Anthropology Association, says the anti-infanticide bill is part of a broader plan to strip native people of their rights and culture. â€œThe infanticide accusation has to do with the fact that childhood is a morally burning topic," he says. "It polarizes public opinion and treats Indians as if they were barbaric savages, thus giving the idea that this has to end, that they must become what white men want, and give away their land and resources.â€
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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