Hundreds of bank clients in the Argentine city of Gualeguaychú suffered the effects of the ongoing battle of this city against the construction of pulp mills in neighboring Uruguay when bills with the inscription Oust Botnia were retained by cashiers.
Thousands of Argentine legal tender bills of all denominations have been illegally stamped with a seal in black ink showing an open hand in alert position and reading "Oust Botnia" in reference to the Finnish Botnia-Orion pulp mill plant under construction in Fray Bentos, just across from Gualeguaychu and which environmentalists and residents want relocated alleging pollution risks to water and air. People who in good faith accepted the bills and went to the banks for different operations were faced with the uncomfortable surprise that following Argentine Central Bank rulings on money circulation, local branches retained the bills. These rules force banks to retain such bills and not exchange them, if they have been voluntarily damaged. Branches then stamp with indelible ink "No value" and they are shipped to the Central Bank for their destruction. "The bills are not false but are catalogued as "deteriorated" and must then follow the 60 days destruction process", said a spokesperson for a local bank. According to the Gualeguaychu press local bank branches ignore who stamped the bills and had them circulate. The pulp mills dispute between Argentina and Uruguay is now on its third year and has seen the case taking to consideration before the International Court of The Hague and Mercosur disputes' tribunal. Gualeguaychu residents supported by environmentalists have been blocking access to bridges leading to Uruguay in protest over the construction of the pulp mills. Uruguay has the support of the World Bank which is partially financing the Finnish company Botnia Orion pulp mill and the European Union backed with accumulated environmental impact assessments which downplay the claims of Gualeguaychu residents. This Friday when the Botnia-Orion begins trials at the plant, pickets are planning to block the three international bridges leading to Uruguay and possibly the main ferry terminal in Buenos Aires from where five to seven thousand travelers cross daily to Uruguay.