Not A Game: Erdogan, Maduro, Trump And The Thirst For Power

Erdogan, center, marks the coup anniversary in Ankara
Erdogan, center, marks the coup anniversary in Ankara
Stuart Richardson

The new season of Game of Thrones, which premiered Sunday, will surely be filled with all manner of sabotage, conspiracy, and politicking. The fictional world of author George R. R. Martin is essentially a timeless story of the pursuit of power as an end in itself. But that same show, it appears, is not only playing on HBO this summer. Accusations of corruption and authoritarianism continue to roil multiple seats of power across the planet, as political leaders operate in a perpetual state of crisis management where the goal of holding onto power has replaced actual governing.

On Sunday, the opposition in Venezuela held an unofficial referendum on embattled President Nicolas Maduro's plan to revise the country's constitution. Some 7.1 million people, constituting about 37% of the electorate, turned out for the unprecedented vote, and unsurprisingly they overwhelmingly dissented from Maduro's sweeping reforms.

Caracas-based El Universal (July 17) reports high voter turnout

The Venezuelan President, whose approval rating has hovered around the mid-twenties for more than a year, has sought to fight off popular backlash as the country has sunk into a now eight-year-old economic crisis. Referendum voters called on the military to protect the existing constitution, demanded new elections, and rejected a proposed constitutional assembly. But Maduro appears utterly unwilling to give into the opposition's demands, and has redoubled his efforts to maintain power. In May he proposed revising the constitution in a half-hearted attempt to appease the opposition that currently controls the National Assembly, as he continues to refuse early elections.

Also this past weekend, Turkey marked the one-year anniversary of a thwarted coup that left more than 300 dead. Speaking on Sunday, President Erdogan spoke of "so many enemies...waiting at the door that will not give us the right to live another day." According to Istanbul-based daily Cumhuriyet, the Turkish President vowed earlier to "sever the heads of these snakes' who supported last year's plot. Indeed, the President has been rather draconian in response to the coup. Since last July, authorities have detained more than 110,000 people who purportedly supported the attempted overthrow of the government.

Opposition leaders, while largely ineffectual, have lambasted Erdogan and his supporters for abusing their power. But the Turkish president maintains that the country's new presidential system hasn't sacrificed its democratic values. After all, the United States has functioned on a similar system for nearly 250 years.

Of course, comparing oneself to American democracy isn't what it used to be. Last week's revelation that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Kremlin-linked, Russian national claiming to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race has only fanned chaos in Washington. While President Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing in last year's tumultuous election, evidence to the contrary has mired his presidency. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released this past weekend revealed that only 36% of American approve of President Trump's job performance.

To be sure, as shameless as they may seem in their respective power grabs, the leaders of Venezuela, Turkey, and the United States still claim to be working in the interest of the people. Elsewhere in the world, the powerful don't even bother with democracy. News this weekend out of Saudi Arabia, a petroleum-fueled monarchy, was the "imminent" beheading of 15 peaceful pro-democratic demonstrators. That, sadly, is a storyline that can compete with George R.R. Martin's twisted imagination.

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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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