eyes on the U.S.

The Path To Post-Communist Cuba Starts With Cash

The imminent injection of wealth into Cuba as the U.S. embargo ends, and the measure of prosperity that should follow, may be the first steps toward its eventual democratization.

In Havana
In Havana


SANTIAGO — The United States and Cuba can be compared to a divorced couple — condemned to remain close throughout their lives, if only for their children's sake. In this case, the children are more than two million Cuban-Americans that the U.S. counted as residents in 2013.

But the two nations have other ties as well. There is, for example, that outpost of the "good old days" before Castro, when U.S. influence was preponderant in Cuba, namely the Guantánamo army base. It's a city for its 5,500 military residents, complete with a McDonalds, Starbucks and Subway, but also a detention and torture center for suspected terrorists. Therein lies the paradox of Washington's relations with Cuba since 1959: It considers it fit to hold on Cuban soil detainees who enjoy neither the rights afforded them on U.S. territory nor those of enemy combatants — while criticizing, with good reason, the Cubans for doing similar things to their opponents and undercover U.S. agents.

Then there is business. Cuba's more than 11.1 million people need and demand goods and services, and their big neighbor can supply much of them, regardless of Cuba's level of development. That's why the recent announcement about ending hostilities is news.

Yet some respected analysts have warned this is actually a step back. The availability of certain pharmaceutical products, farming equipment, travel, etc. are all just oxygen for a failing economy. But the Cuban economy is not failing. It has already failed.

It exists in a parallel world where all excess revenues are spent on renewing energy infrastructure and maintaining the armed forces. Like "politics" in Cuba, the economy is currently at a standstill. Literally nobody in Cuba has enough energy or capital to create a process of change. Politically, that's good, because there's nothing to ensure that the regime's fall would be a Caribbean version of Czechoslovakia's non-violent Velvet Revolution. And there is certainly no assurance a liberal democracy would emerge from change.

Indeed it would be more likely that a soldier or minor official of this regime wound up imposing his own authoritarian rule. But Cuba has one giant asset: its extraordinary human capital, more healthy and infinitely more educated than all its Caribbean neighbors and much of South America.

So far, the island has not been a place where creativity and human fulfillment have excelled, even if it has eradicated or mitigated many of the health care and educational miseries affecting this part of the region.

President Barack Obama's measures point toward improving certain specific rights and liberties for ordinary Cubans. And it is those people who must then transform their country's institutions. Because at the end of the day, the regime of the Castro brothers is not being maintained by Cuban faith in socialist or communist ideals.

That part has failed. What is holding the entire, shoddy structure together these days is a dramatic dearth of resources, and nationalism. As with Vietnam and China, Cuba is a nationalist autocracy (with a depoliticized yet nationalist citizenry) and already past communism.

Because people with empty plates and pockets rarely inspire constructive and enduring changes that create complex societies, we must welcome the arrival of any prosperity to Cuba and its subsequent benefits for the Cubans.

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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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