Europe Set To Bring Belarus In From The Cold

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Galine Dudina and Mikhail Korostikov

MINSK â€" Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko has been dubbed "Europe's Last Dictator," and ties between Brussels and Minsk have been virtually frozen since a new series of sanctions were imposed in 2010.

But now, it appears, Lukashenko and his country will be welcomed back into the continent's fold as the European Union is set to lift sanctions, sources tell Kommersant. The measures had been imposed against Belarus in several stages from 2006 to 2010, with the toughest measures following a crackdown on mass protests after presidential elections in 2010.

But at Monday's regular meeting of EU foreign ministry chiefs in Brussels, the sanctions are set to be eased, including travel bans on Lukashenko and other top officials, sources say. The human rights situation in the country, however, will continue to be monitored.

Diplomatic sources say that the decision will require the agreement of all EU members. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Kommersant: "From what I hear, and judging by what all the countries taking part think, the sanctions will not be extended."

The move will include the lifting of visa bans and an unfreezing of assets of 170 Belarusian citizens, including President Lukashenko.

Victory Square in Minsk, Belarus â€" Photo: Mikkalai

Last October, there was an easing of restrictions against three Belarusian companies, BelTechExport, Beltech Holding and Spetspriborservice, following the release of political prisoners and Minsk's mediating role in the Ukrainian settlement.

Kirill Koktysh, a political scientist with the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) told Kommersant: "They will ease sanctions now quietly rather than later so they don't turn it into a high profile event."

Koktysh noted that Lukashenko has long been accused of being authoritarian. "But compared with what is happening in Ukraine, he is a mild option," he said. "It is impossible for European leaders to save face before their voters, condemning Belarus as an authoritarian country, while at the same time seeing what kind of democracy there is in Ukraine. The level of everyday violence in Belarus is much lower."

Koktysh also pointed out that the Belarus capital was where negotiations over the Ukraine crisis took place, and Minsk is a city where all the European leaders, including Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, came to shake Lukashenko's hand.

However, even if approved by the EU, the lifting of the sanctions will have its limits, as there will still be four people left on the list, suspected of involvement in the disappearance of opposition politicians in 1999 and 2000. Meanwhile, the United States is expected to continue to impose sanctions against Minsk.

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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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