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My Friend From Guadeloupe And Me: What It Means To Be French

Murky definitions of national identity were igniting worldwide debates long before COVID, but travel lockdowns have shifted the cards. And what if I wanted to become French?

The country’s motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité
The country’s motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité
Rozena Crossman

-Essay-

PARIS — It begins when my friends ask how the U.S. and the UK, my motherland and fatherland respectively, are handling the pandemic. Here in France, we're teetering on the edge of another lockdown and we're curious to compare how different nations, with their own cultures and legal systems, are managing their end of the communal project known as "canceling COVID-19."

As we talk about the different ways people feel supported or stigmatized by their respective governments' response to the pandemic, the discussion often ends up at the same place: Do citizens today even identify with their own nation?

It's an even more complex question here since many French people are not from what most outsiders think of as "France." Places like the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, or Mayotte, a small island in the Indian Ocean, are an integral part of the nation — a vestige of France's colonial history that has altered what it means to be "French."

Take my friend, a brilliant businesswoman from Guadeloupe who has lived in Paris on and off for over a decade. When I asked her if, as a French citizen, she felt culturally closer to Spain or Mayotte, she opted for the former without hesitation. Although she and her fellow French citizens from Mayotte share a language and passport, she feels closer culturally to Spaniards, who share a border and, often, heritage with her home in mainland France.

How can the government orchestrate the basic camaraderie needed to execute any group project?

And COVID has only reinforced these distinctions, as it's much more complicated to travel outside the European continent now. In addition to the time, price and infection risk involved with such a long-distance journey, travel from mainland France to external territories is restricted to only essential reasons (family, health or business), according to the French daily Midi Libre. So my friend won't be getting to know the culture in Mayotte — part of her own country — anytime soon.

These travel restrictions meant nothing, however, to the history teacher born and bred in mainland France with whom I chatted a few days later. He's a die-hard supporter of the values of La République working at a public high school in a culturally diverse yet economically underserved suburb of Paris — and feels closer ties with a Guadeloupean than a Spaniard. For him — between the legacy of colonialism and the digital era — geographic proximity no longer defines who you feel cultural kinship with in 2021.

Grand Terre in Guadeloupe — Photo: Luca Moglia

Murky definitions of national identity were igniting worldwide debates long before COVID. Nationalist leaders like Narendra Modi, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump gained power by speaking for communities that seek to solidify their country's place in the world by reinforcing their cultural and historical exceptionalism. Others, like me, hold ties to more than one state and have little interest in further chiseling the differences between them; Brexit, which has turned my life into an administrative nightmare, is a perfect example.

Yet everyone can agree on one thing: Figuring out what it means to be a citizen is a priority.

Chloe Pahaud, founder of Civocracy, which helps governments to encourage public participation, says that our connection to our country necessitates working in tandem with others. "When do we ever really feel like a citizen? When we vote every four years or when we show our passport at border control? Well, this is not enough." This strange time of a pandemic that has exacerbated pre-existing problems is merely the end-of-term exam: How well can our governments not only make their citizens feel listened to and taken care of, but orchestrate the basic camaraderie needed to execute any group project?

I'm about to apply for French citizenship. I've been living here for nearly ten years and feel the country's motto aligns with my values: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. But is this ideology unique to France? Does this country expect more from me than just an alignment with its philosophy? Facing these kinds of questions together — from the banks of the Seine to the shores of the Indian Ocean — may actually be what France is all about.

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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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