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Mercosur: no mincing words

Saturday, January 20th 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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Mercosur Presidents during last Rio de Janeiro summit Mercosur Presidents during last Rio de Janeiro summit

Paraguay, the new temporary president of the Mercosur trade bloc, yesterday urged Argentina and Uruguay to solve their dispute about a pulp mill that has taken them to the World Court, on the last day of a two-day Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro marked by harsh squabbles between Venezuela and Bolivia on one hand and Colombia and Brazil on the other.

In its first day as president of the bloc, Paraguay â€" represented by its Foreign Minister Rubén Ramírez â€" urged the Argentine administration of President Néstor Kirchner to put an end to roadblocks that Argentine demonstrators have been staging for more than a year to protest against the construction of a pulp mill in Uruguay that Argentina claims will harm its environment. "Free circulation is fundamental for Mercosur. We believe that both countries must reach an understanding," said Ramírez. Kirchner and Uruguayan President Vázquez failed to address the pulp mill spat during the summit. The World Court is due to rule on the road blockades on Tuesday. Kirchner is seen at right in the photo speaking with summit host Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As the summit ended with 11 of South America's 12 leaders on hand, the heads of state engaged in a rare bout of public squabbling at their final session, an exchange of nation-on-nation criticism that illustrated deep divisions and raised questions over whether the fractured bloc can be revitalized and expanded. During the closing session of the meeting, which yielded no major policy agreements, Bolivian President Evo Morales questioned Colombia's conservative President Alvaro Uribe over US anti-drug aid to Colombia. Morales also complained about the prices that Brazil â€" one of the world's top ten economies â€" pays for the gas it buys from Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the region, and announced he would press ahead with nationalizing the mining industry, the latest move by a Latin American government to take more control of key sectors. Uribe defended his government and said state control of Latin American economies was littered with failure. When he overran his allotted time, he said, "Blame it on Morales." Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chávez then jumped in and accused Uribe of over-reacting, as other leaders squirmed. Chávez also seized the opportunity to flay the "imperialist" US and more moderate leaders grimaced as he lambasted foreign corporations in a region lagging in foreign investment. Buenos Aires Herald

Categories: Politics, Mercosur.

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