SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rican Senate's approval of a bill last week to hold a referendum to give voters a stark choice between statehood or independence looks like it may settle the island's status once and for all. Leading Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día reports that the vote, set for June 11, will be the first in the island's history to offer citizens a binary choice between becoming the 51st U.S. state or declaring independence, excluding the option of retaining its current status as an American territory. The vote will be the fifth time Puerto Ricans have been called to the polls to decide their status since the island came under U.S. control in 1898.
In every previous referendum the most popular option was remaining a commonwealth except for the last vote in 2012 when voters opted for statehood — although more than half a million blank ballots were cast, prompting Washington to ignore the result. The Senate's decision last Thursday to move forward with the vote this year has generated intense controversy, with the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PPD) announcing it would appeal to the federal Department of Justice to prevent it from occurring.
The New Progressive Party (NPP), which proposed the legislation and holds a majority in the Puerto Rican Congress, is traditionally in favor of statehood and organized the vote in a bid to put an end to the long-running debate on the island's status.
San Juan, Puerto Rico — Photo: Ricardo's Photography
The NPP's Ricardo Rosselló won the governorship last November after campaigning on a pledge to make Puerto Rico the 51st state, claiming it would help solve the grinding economic crisis plaguing the territory, which most recently has left the island with a $70 billion debt.
Opposition parties criticized the decision to exclude other options such as "free association," a form of sovereignty where Puerto Rico would become independent but would cede control over certain areas, like defense, to the United States. According to El Nuevo Día, the approved law stipulates that in the case of a vote for independence, a second referendum would be held Oct. 8 presenting a choice between free association and full independence.
One thing appears certain: By the end of this year, Puerto Rico's political limbo will end, and it will either become the 51st American state, or it will become the 194th member of the United Nations.
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.
- Green Is Ugly: Style Problems Plague Clean Energy Push ... ›
- Solar Power: Researchers Map Out Colombia's Sunshine Hotspots ... ›
- EVs Start Moving Latin American Cities To Sustainability ... ›