Argentina ratified Monday its full willingness to dialogue with Uruguay to find a solution to the increasingly intricate dispute over the establishment of pulp mills along the common fluvial border.
The statement followed a three and a half hours meeting in Buenos Aires between Argentina's Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Taiana and Spain's King special envoy Ambassador Juan Antonio Yañez Barnuevo, --on his third trip--, who is acting as a dialogue "facilitator" between the neighboring countries and who arrived Sunday for a third round of shuttle diplomacy. Ambassador Yañez Barnuevo is expected in Montevideo Tuesday where he's scheduled to meet Foreign Affairs minister Reinaldo Gargano, possibly Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez, and will be returning to Buenos Aires on Thursday. Before the "open agenda" meeting Taiana said Argentina was receiving the King's envoy with "optimism" and "confidence". "The facilitation task of the Spanish King was an original proposal from President Kirchner, that is why we looked at it as a true possibility to advance", said Taiana. "Argentina continues to work with responsibility and prudence, with the purpose of preserving the (joint) River Uruguay environment and respect for international treaties". The Finnish corporation Botnia-Orion pulp mill project next to the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos, just across from Gualeguaychu has triggered a serious political and diplomatic confrontation between Uruguay and Argentina, with the dispute ongoing presented before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Mercosur Disputes Council. Uruguay, which has financial support for the plant from the World Bank, claims the pulp mill will not contaminate but Argentina demands independent accumulative environmental impact assessments and accuses Uruguay of adopting unilateral decisions thus violating the 1975 River Uruguay joint administration treaty. As was convened previously the confidentiality of the Spanish diplomat contacts, with Uruguay, Argentina, Finland and Botnia, must be strictly respected and not much has leaked or advanced from those encounters. However last week Yañez Barnuevo contacts in Helsinki where he met with members of the government and representatives from Botnia was confirmed and in a release from the Finnish embassy in Buenos Aires Helsinki called on both countries (Argentina and Uruguay) "to find a reasonable and negotiated solution to the dispute", but cautioned that Finland does not interfere in private sector projects "when corporations comply with requirements and standards" demanded by the investment host country. Yañez Barnuevo's third visit comes at a special moment because last week the ICJ turned down Uruguay's request for provisional measures to protest Argentine pickets in the routes leading to bi-national bridges that are damaging the Uruguayan economy. Besides 2007 is presidential electoral year in Argentina, with a previous string of regional elections including next March in the province of Entre Rios, (ruled by an ally of President Kirchner), where Gualeguaychu is located and the pulp mills dispute has virtually monopolized public opinion attention. Uruguay's position has been that no dialogue is possible until the pickets blockading routes to Uruguay are lifted, but the Kirchner administration refuses to apply force, because "Argentine citizens right to free expression" can't be limited. Pickets on the other hand want a re-location of the Botnia-Orion plant as happened with a second pulp mill project by Spain's ENCE, which the company last December decided to move from the Fray Bentos area to the coast of the River Plate. As things are the face saving game of the Spanish envoy not only involves presidents Kirchner and Vazquez but, as things are, has also become extensive to the King of Spain facilitating efforts. One of the possible solutions insistently mentioned is to build a thirty kilometers long pipeline down the river Uruguay through where the effluents of the pulp mill would be pumped, thus eliminating a major contention issue. A reshaping job to help limit the Botnia-Orion plant visual contamination (huge chimney) from the Argentine side could also be included in the project. The financing of the additional drain, which is rejected by environmentalists, could be shared between Argentina, Uruguay and Spain. Uruguay has a 70 million US dollars credit with Spain made up of debt condoned during the Uruguayan 2001/2002 financial crisis, but which must be invested, according to contract terms, in environmental friendly projects and with a participation of Spanish contractors. If so, the King's envoy facilitating efforts could prove successful, as long as residents 30 kilometers down, where the river is even wider don't begin protests demanding possibly another extension of the drainage system.