Argentina's Coast Guard on Wednesday reinforced security in Buenos Aires ferry Terminal following the decision by picketers who are blocking access to neighboring Uruguay in protest over the building of a pulp mill, to impede daily river shuttles to Montevideo.
"Our orders are to guarantee passenger access to the port and have the navigation area cleared", said Nelson Castro, Buenos Aires port master. On Tuesday night an assembly of picketers in Gualeguaychu decided to step up measures blocking access to Uruguay by taking their protest to the Buenos Aires port terminal where an estimated 5.000 people cross daily over to Uruguay in the high season. Gualeguaychu residents with support from environmentalists have been protesting for over a year the construction of a pulp mill in Fray Bentos, on the Uruguayan coast of a river that acts as a natural border, alleging environmental damage to water, air and tourism. Actually there are three bridges leading to Uruguay from Argentina, and all three of them at different times, particularly in Gualeguaychu, have been blocked impeding traffic to Uruguay which has led to repeated protests from Uruguayan authorities. The Argentine government which at first supported the picketers is now calling for an end to the blockades, but to no avail. The picketers' assembly decided to block the ferries heading for Uruguay with "surprise actions" plus the complete and simultaneous blocking of all three bridges leading to Uruguay. The three bridge heads are in Gualeguaychu, Concordia and Colon. "If we are successful in blocking the ferries, the struggle becomes a national cause, and therefore we must also ensure that the three bridges come to a complete stand still", said Alfredo de Angelis one of the leading protestors. "I'm sure we'll have support from Buenos Aires residents in our struggle against the contamination of the river Uruguay", added de Angelis. However he pointed out that action in Buenos Aires must be "surprise actions". The Finnish Botnia Orion pulp mill under construction in Fray Bentos, across from Gualeguaychu, is Uruguay's major private investment in half a century, an estimated 1.2 billion US dollars. Argentina has been demanding the Botnia plant to be relocated, but the Finnish company and Uruguay have rejected the proposal. Furthermore Uruguay refuses to hold talks on the dispute until there's an end to pickets. The Argentine government official line is that no force will be applied in clearing the access to bridges, only persuasion. The dispute has been taken to the International Court of The Hague, Mercosur Disputes Tribunal plus the dialogue "facilitating" efforts of the Spanish Crown.