eyes on the U.S.

Washington, Rome, Kampala: The Sacred Counting Of Democracy

At a polling station in Mageere, Uganda during the country's presidential and parliamentary elections
At a polling station in Mageere, Uganda during the country's presidential and parliamentary elections
Alessio Perrone

At 6 p.m. local time Wednesday in Rome, while much of the world was transfixed on Washington, D.C., Italian reporters were huddled in a vast room of the nation's Parliament to witness another political crisis unfolding.

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced that his minor party would pull out of the government, plunging Italian politics into deep uncertainty that may only be resolved with a new snap election. Pundits accused Renzi of acting for his cynical personal interest, trying to force out Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to make space for his own comeback to the center of the political stage. Others noted that the announcement baffled Italians, who had just heard the news that their country had recorded 507 new COVID-19 deaths that day, pushing the toll past 80,000. Some argued that the far-right would win if the country heads to the polls.

Still, with all the melodrama, this governmental "crisis' is largely politics-as-usual in Italy, which has had 72 different government coalitions in the 78 years of its wobbly post-War parliamentary system. But despite all the instability, democracy itself is not in question in Italy.

Renzi at a press conference to announce that his party would pull out of the government — Photo: Samantha Zucchi Insidefoto/Insidefoto via ZUMA Press

Of course the "crisis' underway across the Atlantic is of another tenor, and order of magnitude. Just minutes after Renzi's announcement, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump — for an unprecedented second time — after the Republican leader incited a mob to block the counting of his election defeat in Congress. Five people died in the violence, and Trump continues to falsely insist that the election was "stolen" from him. The American presidential system of government, typically noted for its stability, has shown what happens when a president is particularly power-hungry. And yes, just a week before President-elect Joe Biden is slated to be inaugurated, democracy itself is in question in the U.S.

Meanwhile in Uganda, voters are heading to the polls Thursday in the aftermath of one of the most divisive election campaigns in recent history, with at least 55 people killed in related violence. The incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for 34 years. The leading opposition candidate, the 34-year-old pop star turned politician Bobi Wine, said that the army killed one of his bodyguards and that he has been detained and prevented from campaigning several times. The government has also shut down the internet and banned international election observers. In Uganda, democracy is constantly in question.

A celebrated Italian political theorist, Norberto Bobbio, once remarked that democracy is a process by which heads are not chopped, but counted. It's always a good reminder of how crucial it is to respect the counting.

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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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