CHISINAU â€" The tent city in the center of Moldova"s capital sprung up the evening of Sept. 6, just after a downtown protest had drawn thousands. The demonstrators decided on the spot to stay until they could claim victory; and by nightfall, a few dozen tents had appeared. By the next day there were at least 100.
On a recent day, yet another tent was being set up â€" and from an unlikely protester. â€œI worked for the police for 16 years, sometimes even clearing settlements like this," said the man, who did not give his name. "Iâ€™ve tried to go about my business for the past couple months. Now Iâ€™m renouncing my duty.â€
Another policeman patrolling the square said that he supported the protestersâ€™ demands. â€œThis government is pissing me off.â€
The latest protest took place Monday, as an estimated 20,000 people demonstrated against Moldova's government, days after the International Monetary Fund said it would not negotiate a new loan agreement, the Associated Press reported.
The reasons driving people to protest are familiar: corruption, consumer price increases, electoral fraud and government employees who break the law. The classic cake has its own, particular icing: Last year around 1 billion euros disappeared from three major Moldovan banks. For a small, poor country like Moldova, thatâ€™s a huge amount of money.
Sept. 6 protests in Chisinau â€" Photo: Accent TV screenshot
The money-withdrawal scheme occurred when banks owned by a well-known businessman gave loans to dubious businesses, which then defaulted. The vanished money sparked a currency devaluation after the national bank had to step in, and that led to the rise in prices. The businessman in question has not been prosecuted, nor have any of the people responsible for monitoring banking operations.
â€œDignity and Truth,â€ the citizensâ€™ group behind the current protests, was formed in early 2015 in response to the banking revelations. The most recent protest was the fourth protest the group organized, and the largest gathering in Chisinau in recent memory.
What is unclear is whether the scandal and subsequent protests could lead to a change in government in Moldova. Although Moldovan law does not technically allow early elections, there might be be other ways to force a change.
Since the current government is pro-European, it is likely to pay attention to recommendations from Brussels, which could force the political parties to purge the government of the most compromised officials.
Mark Tkachuk, a former presidential adviser in Moldova, says that the problem goes deeper than simply replacing officials. â€œYou could exchange the â€œbadâ€ pro-Europeans in Moldova with â€œgoodâ€ pro-Europeans, but the problem is that no one in government has any positive ideas or real strategies," he said. "Thereâ€™s a lack of personnel.â€
Targeted by protests, oligarch Vladimir Plakhotnyuk â€" Photo: Accent TV screenshot
Cornel Churya, an analyst with the Chisinau Development Institute, thinks that unprecedented early elections could happen. â€œThey can figure out a way to hold the elections. But the government needs to give the protesters something,â€ he said.
But itâ€™s also entirely possible that the current ruling party would triumph in early elections, after having won in many local elections last June, which shows that their image hasnâ€™t been too damaged by the corruption scandal.
There would also be representatives of â€œDignity and Truth,â€ some of whom would like to ride the wave of popular protest to form a new political party. When the citizensâ€™ group becomes a party, its politics would be right-of-center. Meanwhile, the political party controlled by Vladimir Plakhotnyuk, Moldovaâ€™s most powerful oligarch, will edge ever closer to Moscow.
Still, no matter who ends up in power, the most important problems in Moldova will remain unsolved: social polarization, corruption and the countryâ€™s weak economic development. Since gaining independence, Moldovan politicians have typically found it easier to fight among themselves than work on the uncomfortable battle with corruption and the boring questions related to development. That, utlimately, is at the center of protesters' complaints.
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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