Uruguay called on Argentina to begin the price bidding process for the delayed dredging of a River Plate canal and revealed it was already monitoring the Uruguayan side of a joint commission responsible for deciding on the final contract and which has come under suspicion of corruption.
“It is with great concern that we see essential interests of Uruguay seriously affected from the moment in which a decision postpones in time the compliance with a timetable for the deep-dredging of the Martin Garcia canal”, points out a letter from the Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro to his Argentine peer Hector Timerman.
With the purpose of “ensuring the greatest guarantee and transparency” Uruguay has requested “as soon as possible the instrumentation of a bidding process for the maintenance of the Martin Garcia canal, given the impossibility to comply with the timetable to put out to international tender the contract conditions for the deep dredging of the canal”, adds the letter.
Uruguay also requests the “approval and exposure to public opinion of the minutes of the CARP (River Plate Administrative Commission) since the new Uruguayan delegation took office”.
The incident, the latest of a long list of frustrations to which Uruguay has been forced by Argentina stems from the rivalry between the ports of Buenos Aires and Nueva Palmira in Uruguay.
Two River Plate main canals keep the two ports open to trade and freight: Mitre which leads to Buenos Aires and Martin Garcia to Nueva Palmira that has become Uruguay’s main terminal for grains, oilseeds, minerals and pulp.
However Buenos Aires port interests, and by extension the Argentine government, are not pleased with having an efficient competitive terminal in the area and have consistently found excuses to torpedo the proper maintenance and deep dredging of Martin Garcia, since under the River Plate agreement the water ways are jointly managed on a consensus basis.
Uruguayan president Jose Mujica has diligently complied with all Argentine requests given his good chemistry with Cristina Fernandez, (and in spite of strong criticism at home) but this last incident seems to have cracked any patience left.
The Dutch company currently in charge of the maintenance dredging for both canals, as has been for the last twenty years, wanted its contract extended and apparently offered generous ‘donations’ to both delegations of CARP. The Uruguayan side walked out of the meeting and reported the facts to the ministry, what happened in the Argentine side is anybody’s guess but the Uruguayan media reported the bribe attempt and the sum: a million US dollars.
Furious because of the allegations in the Uruguayan press Minister Timerman wrote on Monday a letter to Almagro postponing the bidding process until the whole incident is cleared and called for a joint audit in the next 24 hours.
However Almagro replied stating the need to get along with the bidding process, revealing that Uruguay has been closely monitoring the whole process since March and will have a final report at the maximum in sixty days. It also invited Argentina to make public all the minutes from the Argentine side regarding discussions at the CARP meetings.
To emphasize Uruguay’s position Almagro met on Tuesday with representatives from all Uruguayan parties with parliamentary representation to explain how negotiations have evolved and ask for support.
The Uruguayan opposition gave their full support to the Uruguayan minister, the CARP delegation as well as their honesty and transparency, and said “enough is enough”.
“We are fed up with Argentina’s dirty tricks and delays, so we are proposing the Uruguayan government to undertake the dredging on its own”, said Senator Jorge Larrañaga from the main opposition party.
Furthermore Larrañaga anticipated that a tax disclosure and information exchange agreement recently reached with Argentina which needs legislative approval, “will remain frozen until Argentina abides by the terms of the months-long discussion refereed to the Martin Garcia canal and which should have seen the bidding process decided at the end of May”
Uruguay’s intention is to have the canal dredged to 34 feet from the current 32.