Argentina Measures The Political Price Of Financial Crisis

A worsening economy in Argentina may cause political shifts before the 2019 presidential elections.

Protesters in the midst of a strike against Mauricio Macri's government in Buenos Aires
Protesters in the midst of a strike against Mauricio Macri's government in Buenos Aires
Rosendo Fraga


BUENOS AIRES — Economic, social or political affairs never exist in a vacuum. The ways each affects the other winds up creating, deepening or appeasing any given crisis.

Argentina's shaky economic conditions will likely have an impact on general elections scheduled for October 2019. And in the meantime, while the economy is expected to bounce back before then, there is no assurance that ordinary people will feel its benefits and decide to vote for the sitting government of President Mauricio Macri. Indeed, public sentiment may worsen between now and then.

The economy can decisively affect and even hasten social developments. The effects of price devaluation can hit within weeks, while job creation may take months to affect the public mood. A year ahead of elections, the economy is causing poverty, unemployment, and the income gap to worsen. Social conflict works, in turn, through a "spring mechanism" with accumulated tensions and a trigger, which is always difficult to identify. In Argentina, social tensions started rising in April when market volatility began about six months ago.


Argentinian trade unions take to the streets — Photo: Patricio Murphy/Zuma

Trade unions and social movements have meanwhile organized several important protests, which, for the moment, have contained and channeled these tensions, avoiding an eruption.

By late September, these movements converged in national-scale protests. In recent weeks, social organizations led gatherings outside different government headquarters and backed hardline trade-union sectors in strikes and other actions on September 24. They were also participants in the general strike of September 25.

Just being in power can assure you as much as a third of all votes.

This is President Macri's fourth general strike, and the second in three months. The question is, if — or when — social protests will spill over. In the 72 hours between August 31 and September 3, for example, there were 21 reported lootings or attempted lootings in seven provinces, leading to 160 arrests. One teenager was killed in Sáenz Peña in northern Argentina. These are alarms on social protests coming out of the "structures."

Politics has its own calendar. One may assume that Cambiemos, the presidential party, will be a competitive option in next year's election. Just being in power can ensure as much as a third of all votes, even in adverse conditions. That could take the party to a second round. The last president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, will probably be running in spite of the half-dozen court cases she faces, perhaps heading a "personal" coalition, as she did in 2017. A third space may belong to anti-Kirchner: Peronism, the social-democratic movement from which Mrs. Kirchner emerged. It is already calling itself "federal" (though others qualify it as "rational") and presently leaderless and without a candidate. But it seems a valid alternative, with the economy working against Cambiemos and corruption tainting the Kirchner crowd.

A second round between Cambiemos and Kirchner's movement would favor the government, as anti-Kirchner Peronism could split between the two. But the government should be wary of a second round between itself and non-Kirchner Peronists. Kirchner herself could neutralize the benefits of an economic improvement for the government.

Yes indeed, the old dictum holds about the decisive connection between economic, social and political forces. We just have to wait until 2019 to see how it all plays out.

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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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