After Lula: Brazil’s New President signals foreign policy shift

With a more austere approach, Dilma Rousseff has already criticized the same Iranian government that her predecessor was eager to reach out to.

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Anointed by her wildly popular predecessor, Dilma Rousseff's victory in November as Brazil's first female president promised near perfect continuity from the policies of the past eight years. And on the domestic front, the 63-year-old economist is showing all the signs of continuing in the footsteps of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's social and economic development programs, aiming to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015.

The new president may be set to mark a subtle, but potentially important, shift away from Lula on foreign policy. Not only is Rousseff expected to be generally more low-profile and pragmatic, she appears to be shifting Brazil's stance on the ongoing US-Iranian diplomatic standoff.

Rousseff was active in resistance groups fighting against Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1960s, and between 1970 and 1973 she was imprisoned and tortured. As a result of her experiences, she looks set to be less tolerant of governments accused of human rights abuses than Lula, who was on friendly terms with such autocratic leaders as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In an interview with the Washington Post in December, Rousseff distanced herself from Brazil's abstention in a recent United Nations resolution condemning Iran's human rights abuses, including the stoning of people convicted of crimes. "I am not (yet) the president of Brazil, but I would feel uncomfortable as a woman president-elect not to say anything against the stoning. My position will not change when I take office. I do not agree with the way Brazil voted. It's not my position."

Since her election, Rousseff has already publicly criticized Iran for its "medieval" treatment of women. The Iranian government has voiced its displeasure at her repeated references to Iran's human rights situation, in a first sign of tension between the two countries following years of friendly relations during Lula's tenure.

In another sign of a possible policy shift, Rousseff has appointed Antonio Patriota, ambassador to the United States during the Lula administration and married to an American woman, as Brazil's foreign minister. Patriota has a close relationship with Celso Amorim, foreign minister under Lula, so many of his actions will be consistent with the previous government's. But Patriota's appointment may be an indication that Rousseff hopes to reinforce a relationship between Brazil and the U.S. that has cooled in recent years, in part due to Lula's willingness to negotiate with Iran over a nuclear energy deal in 2010.

Still to be determined is the influence that Lula may or may not try to exert over foreign policy decisions, as he is likely to remain involved in international issues, according to Brazilian economic journal Valor. During Lula's tenure, his foreign policy was focused on asserting Brazil's role as a regional leader on the international stage, and was marked as much by his charismatic presence as his administration's policies.

Lula was also known for public comments that occasionally crossed the standard lines of diplomacy. Many of his ‘one-liners' were lost in translation before ever reaching the international community. But a few, including 2009's assertion that blond, blue-eyed people were responsible for the financial crisis, did clear the language barrier to receive worldwide coverage. As one Brazilian reporter wrote earlier this year, "Lula's foreign policy actions leave no doubt as to his disposition to handle delicate global problems with a lightness of vocabulary capable of giving even the most trained diplomat heart palpitations."

Still despite the differences in style and substance, Rousseff's government has largely similar foreign policy goals as Lula's, including obtaining a permanent seat on the U.N."s security council, as well as serving as mediator on key international issues such as the Middle East peace process. Rousseff's lack of experience or the flair of her predecessor may keep her out of the limelight in the early months. But Brazil is simply too big a player for her to stay quiet for long.

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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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