A World Losing Faith In Politics As Usual

From Greece and Spain, to Brazil and beyond, people are no longer convinced that politics is working for the greater good.

Jan. 31 Podemos protest in Madrid
Jan. 31 Podemos protest in Madrid
Clóvis Rossi


SAO PAULO — Dilma Rousseff's troubles grow by the day. Even talk of impeachment has begun to spread amid ongoing revelations of corruption from her own party in the far-reaching Petrobras scandal, while recent polls suggest that her image has been badly damaged. Almost half of those polled said they found their president “dishonest,” and 54% described her as “deceitful.” Other prominent members of her Workers’ Party are faring no better.

In such a climate of distrust towards politics and politicians, it’s no wonder that a survey published by Folha de S. Paulo"s polling institute Datafolha showed that 71% of Brazilians don’t identify with any party — an all-time high, even topping polls taken during massive protests in the summer of 2013. The public surveys put a bit of science in an emerging bit of popular political astronomy: The world of politics has mutated, gradually turning itself into a galaxy that orbits around its own interests, rather than the common good.

It’s actually embarrassing to write “world of politics” and “common good” in the same sentence. They’ve become antonyms.

But don’t be mistaken, voters’ disaffection and their falling out of love with political parties is not just a Brazilian phenomenon. Nor is it a recent trend.

Latinobarómetro, the best indicator of Latin American attitudes, has been showing ramping mistrust in the continent for several years. In its most recent study (for 2013, published in 2014), an average of below 30% agreed with the statement “the country is governed for the benefit of all.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the figure for Brazil was well below that: Less than 20% considered that their government was concerned with common good.

Brazil's Dilma Rousseff with former CEO of Petrobras Maria das Graças Silva Foster — Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR/ZUMA

The same observation can be made outside of Latin America. It’s a global phenomenon. The same day Folha published the polls showing Dilma’s approval ratings in free fall, Spanish newspaper El País featured a study showing that the country’s most popular party was newcomer Podemos.

A voice for outrage

Podemos was born of the so-called indignados (the "outraged"), an anti-austerity, anti-inequality movement that shook the country a few years ago. Spain's traditional parties are affected by an erosion of voter identification similar to what we witness in Brazil. In the last general election, in 2011, the two main parties, the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Socialist Workers’ Party together got 73% of the votes. Not only do the polls show Podemos as the biggest party, but the scores of the two traditional camps put together represent just 46%.

In the United Kingdom, nano parties got 6% of the vote in the 2010 general election. Now, just months away from national elections, they’re at 25% — a surge mostly due to that of eurosceptic party UKIP and the Greens.

For El País columnist Antonio Navalón, the world is witnessing the end of a system. “You can’t understand the successes of Alexis Tsipras in Greece or Podemos and the difficulties faced by Dilma Rousseff in Brazil if you don’t accept that this system is ending,” he writes.

Navalón doesn’t specifically define what system he’s talking about, but it seems obvious it’s the predominant economic model, the one we call neoliberal. It seems all the more revealing that Rousseff’s difficulties coincide with her shift from state interventionism in the economy to the more traditional orthodoxy.

To be honest, I don’t know whether the end of an economic cycle is imminent. Capitalism has after all a formidable capacity to reinvent itself. The worlds of politics on the other hand shows an unbeatable incapacity to do so, particularly unable to become an instrument for the benefit of all and not just a few at the top.

This is where the real danger lies. It leaves a void that opportunists can take advantage of. Brazil knows this only too well.

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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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