MUNICH — A business conference will take place next week in Saudi Arabia, dubbed "Davos in the Desert." It comes at a delicate moment to say the least: Nearly two weeks ago, the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared from a Saudi consulate in Turkey, and is now feared dead. Many have accused the regime in Riyadh of having a role in his death.
Multiple top U.S. executives were quick to cancel their participation in the Saudi business event, including Bob Bakish, head of the media group Viacom, and Dara Khosrowshahi, who leads the transport service provider Uber. The New York Times has withdrawn as a media partner.
In Germany, on the other hand, restraint has initially prevailed.
The industrial giant Siemens and the consulting firm Roland Berger say their respective CEOs Joe Kaeser and Edouard Bouée have not made a decision yet. They are supposedly waiting for more information on the Khashoggi case.
But what are Kaeser and Bouée waiting for? If a Saudi journalist disappears from his country's consulate in Turkey, and the Turkish authorities say Khashoggi was killed in the building, suspecting a targeted crime on behalf of the government in Riyadh seems like the obvious thing to do. The horrifying dossier should be a good enough reason to discuss action against the kingdom, which is one of the world's richest countries, but also among the most totalitarian, in which the ultimate measure of the law is Islamic sharia.
Saudi Arabia does not get to decide whether they get weapons or not.
Reasons to sanction this kingdom have existed for decades. But the governments of the world have opted for leniency, mostly because Saudi Arabia has long been the largest oil producer in the world. No one wanted to offend the supplier of the fuel of the economy — especially as the regime in Riyadh was usually a reliable partner of the industrialized countries in multiple crises in the region. This traditionally gave the Saudis an exceptional position in the Gulf region, also as a customer: Americans and Germans especially like to sell modern weapons and cars to the rich desert state.
It would be unrealistic to think that because of the Khashoggi case, we would pull out the moral cudgel and finally call out the Saudis for their human rights abuses. The West has sinned so thoroughly on this issue that the impression around the world holds that principles ultimately have no meaning in politics, when it's linked to the supply of oil.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with King Salman on Oct. 16 — Photo: U.S. Department of State
Even before the Khashoggi affair, former Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (of left-center Social Democrats) had already demanded that German arms supplies to the kingdom be restricted. He was quickly criticized, but not only in Saudi Arabia. Germany's ruling center-right CDU is always happy to take into account the interests of the German defense companies, while the Social Democrats are quick to back the workers in the arms industry. A few weeks after, the strained relations with Saudi Arabia had recovered from Sigmar Gabriel's attack, and the embassies in Riyadh and Berlin are once again occupied.
But with the Khashoggi case, the federal government should take a stand and stop dealing with the Saudis — especially since they can now afford to more than in the past. The Middle Eastern kingdom is not as economically crucial for Germany as it once was. Saudi Arabia is currently only Germany's 10th largest supplier of oil.
Ultimately it is not up to private companies to do the bidding of Middle East diplomacy. Saudi Arabia does not get to decide whether they get Western-built weapons or not. This is the responsibility of governments, which must finally take a clear and critical stance.
Nevertheless, top German CEOs can at least chip in for the fight for human rights: by not making the trip to "Davos in the Desert." That would not plunge their corporations into the abyss, and shareholders would get over it. Many employees would be happy if their respective boss took a stand. And above all, it would finally give a chance to the forces of reform inside Saudi Arabia.
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.
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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