eyes on the U.S.

Behind Biden's Message Of Unity, A Shattered America

Joe Biden and his inauguration teleprompter
Joe Biden and his inauguration teleprompter
Alessio Perrone

MILAN — The first day of Joe Biden's presidency bore clear traces of some of the recent wounds inflicted on the United States. After being sworn in, Biden arrived at the White House protected by thousands of troops and barricades just two weeks since deadly violence engulfed the Capitol.

Thousands of flags stood in for the typical inauguration day crowds to prevent gatherings during the pandemic — and also the possibility of more violence. In his inaugural address, Biden appeared to compare the Trump presidency to a calamity, saying his country needs to "start afresh" and get together like it had after the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars, 9/11.

Headlines around the world echoed his words with optimism and relief. "Biden can heal what Trump broke," wrote a member of the New York Times"s editorial board. "Comeback for America," said Germany's biggest-selling tabloid Bild. "Democracy has prevailed," titled France's Le Monde.

But a different picture emerged on social media, where the silence of the flags standing in for cheering crowds were mirrored by other American silences. I have many friends in and around Pueblo, Colorado, where I spent much of my high school junior year. It's a part of America built on steel and coal that has struggled to flourish after the industries' decline. I was looking yesterday on my Facebook feed for the voices on this new presidency that might rise like a phoenix out of those ashes in southern Colorado.

I had grown used to checking the wide-ranging posts of a Baptist pastor to try to better understand Republican voters in rural America. But then he disappeared overnight. Furious that Twitter had temporarily suspended Trump's account, the pastor told his Facebook followers he was joining an alternative social media platform, Parler, and encouraged them to do the same. In the last few weeks, thousands of right-wing extremists have seen Parler as an opportunity to continue to organize and spread hate speech under the radar, escaping regulations and social media bans.

My old friends' feeds remained silent.

Most of my old friends' feeds remained silent for inauguration day, as they had for weeks. I'd seen years of bitter arguments play out in their comment sections — over Trump, over guns, over police killings of African-Americans. But, now, nothing. No jubilation, no talk of new beginnings, no skepticism or bitterness. Nothing.

This new silence makes for an eerie coda to end an otherwise noisy presidency — after Trump was banned from social media, he promised Wednesday to "be back in some form" as he bid farewell to Washington.

For all the talk of coming together with the dawning of a new democracy, the United States has been wrenched apart. It will take a lot more than the optimistic words of a new president to bring it back together again. I'll keep my eye out for news from my old friends in Colorado.

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Green

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

Xinhua/ZUMA

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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