LA PAZ â€" As of Sunday, Bolivia is once again divided in two. It had taken President Evo Morales almost a decade to build a consensus around him, a consensus that had enabled him to be re-elected for a third five-year term in 2014 with 61% of the vote. But his failure this week to win a referendum that would have allowed him to stand for a fourth term means he will be governing until 2019 over a country that is once again divided.
Many analysts rushed to say that the slim â€œNoâ€ victory in the referendum on the constitutional change was yet another nail in the coffin of â€œBolivarianism.â€ But what we witnessed in Bolivia has more to do with the erosion of Morales' public image and the loss of confidence from his base support: the political left and indigenous movements.
The regionâ€™s economic slowdown hasnâ€™t yet translated into noticeable negative effects in daily life, with Boliviaâ€™s GDP growing at an average of 5% over the past decade, leading to a fall in poverty and unemployment.
And yet, thereâ€™s no indication that the majority of support for the â€œNoâ€ comes from a demand of change in economic policy or desire to reduce the governmentâ€™s role.
Moralesâ€™ real difficulty is that he doesnâ€™t know how to deal with the negative consequences of the absence of change in power. Corruption is to blame. Itâ€™s spreading in strategic government sectors, among them the Indigenous Fund foundation, accused of paying funds for construction projects, only 20% of which have actually materialized.
The most recent example is one that affected the 56-year-old President directly. Morales has been accused of having favored an ex-girlfriend, who also happens to be a senior executive at a Chinese company that was awarded $500 million worth of construction contracts.
The female question
Whereas the opposition was fragmented in the 2014 election, last Sundayâ€™s referendum made it possible for all those dissatisfied with Morales to make common cause. But it would be wrong to assume that this makes them a monolithic alternative to govern.
Instead, the â€œNoâ€ side brought together part of the entrepreneurship worried about the announced crisis and parts of an urban left that demands equal rights for all men and women before the law. They were joined by indigenous dissidents and part of the white elite who never accepted the idea of having someone from the Aymara people as the nation's leader. Encouraged by a wave of good polling results, Morales has also showed a more authoritative side lately, which has alienated some of his supporters, especially those most politically progressive.
At a press conference on Monday, the day after the referendum, a female journalist asked Morales what heâ€™d do if he left the government. He replied that he was prepared to go back to his home region, Chaco, and offered her to be his cook. This sort of macho â€œjokeâ€ is by no means new, and feminist leaders see this type of behavior reflected in the lack of measures to promote a more egalitarian society, combat domestic violence (Bolivia is the leading Latin American country in that respect) and to open up the debate on abortion in Congress.
The question now is how these political forces will behave in this new scenario, with Morales now set to leave office in 2019. Having secured the support of 48.6% of the population for what would have been an unprecedented grab at power, his popularity remains high, even if attention will shift toward looking for his potential successor.
The greatest challenge continues to lie with the opposition, which has failed in the last three elections to unite together behind one candidate. Perhaps their success in defeating the referendum will remind them of the importance of unity and compromise.
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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