Geopolitics

Mexico Malaise: Democracy Lessons For Pena Nieto From Brazil And Chile

The government's failure to address crime, corruption and declining living standards risks true social upheaval. But Enrique Pena Nieto just sits on the ball.

Rally against Pena Nieto in Mexico City
Rally against Pena Nieto in Mexico City
Luis Rubio

-OpEd-

MEXICO CITY â€" In politics, as in life, timing is everything. As Saint Augustine reflected in the fifth century, time is present with us in three ways: It's the present that's being lived, the past now being remembered, and the future for which we currently have expectations. The problem these days is that present, past and future have become compressed into a much shorter time period, giving rise to that most modern concept â€" timing â€" which is now a critical factor in decision making and money management.

Time was previously an absent variable in economic decision-making. The International Monetary Fund and economists would advise governments to follow a particular recipe, and governments would then patiently wait for it to yield results. Time effectively seemed irrelevant.

Those days are over, though it seems that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's government hasn't gotten the memo.

Amid the globalized world's rising expectations, time is not just important; it's all that matters. Living standards are worsening while expectations are simultaneously rising. And all of this has considerable political implications. It is a dichotomy that may go a long way toward explaining the present state of Mexico's acute disenchantment.

This past weekend's election in Mexico does little to change the fact that Peña Nieto is disconnected from rising public dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. Though Institutional Revolutionary Party barely retained control of Congress in national voting, outbreaks of violence at polling stations is a reminder that the political leaders are out of touch.

In terms of political reality, it's naive to think that people will continue to wait for results when there are no signs of progress. It's not just about the economy, but as Argentina's Juan Perón once said, it's about what is arguably our most sensitive area â€" our pocketbooks. In today's world, the only way to close the gap between rapidly rising expectations and daily reality is to exercise enough leadership to keep people's hopes alive.

Only at your peril could you believe that time is infinite. Time abandoned by one side gives rise to disruptive alternatives â€" call it populism â€" that promise miraculous solutions they can never provide. Another problem today is how quickly people inform themselves, often in real time. A combination of ubiquitous information, a plodding economy and high unemployment are making people angry, and exacerbating other problems.

Graft as protest

Corruption, for example, has almost become a means of revolt and may be dealing some lethal blows to Mexico's traditional political class. We only have to compare Mexico with Brazil and Chile. Regardless of whether they have acted correctly, their governments were at least forced to respond. Here the government believes it's off the hook as long as it obtains reasonably good results in parliamentary elections.

Pena Nieto (left) at the opening of a Honda plant in Celaya, Mexico

Paradoxically, while the political class could meet some of the people's demands on education, transport or health care, it would find it practically impossible to eliminate corruption, which is the oxygen of its activity. Meanwhile, the pressure that's being exerted, especially through social networking sites, is rising exponentially, as are pressures to resolve the majority's bread-and-butter issues. It would be delusional to expect these to subside by themselves, and the government's challenge is to respond to reality as it stands today.Â

On the other hand, the one great advantage â€" if that's the word â€" that Mexican politicians have over their Chilean and Brazilian peers is that Mexico is infinitely less democratic. And that could strangely give them more leeway to transform the country. Mexican institutions have yet to be pushed into a corner and forced to make decisions the way Chile and Brazil have. They therefore have the chance to anticipate and preclude such extreme pressure.Â

The government became paralyzed over the September 2014 massacre of students in Guerrero. Here, evidently, no amount of free elections and vote counting and recounting can bridge the enormous distance between society and government. Put another way, politicians are so distant from the public â€" and accountability â€" that it's practically impossible for them to lose their jobs for corruption.

Time will end this privileged situation, but before it does politicians have an enormous opportunity to anticipate the inevitable. Unless there is a sudden economic upswing, the government cannot imagine it will always be protected from social pressure. Leadership and hope have never been this important in Mexico.

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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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