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Pulp mills dispute: Argentina on full offensive

Wednesday, January 31st 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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Ambassador Yañez during his meeting with Pte. Vazquez Ambassador Yañez during his meeting with Pte. Vazquez

Uruguay promised to consider all proposals from the Spanish Crown envoy who is attempting to “facilitate a dialogue” between Argentina and Uruguay that are confronted over the construction of pulp mills in a shared border river.

Ambassador Juan Yañez Barnuevo arrived Tuesday in Montevideo after spending Monday in Buenos Aires with Argentine authorities as part of his River Plate shuttle diplomacy to help facilitate an understanding. Finland's Botnia is building a pulp mill in Fray Bentos, just across from Gualeguaychu, Argentina, whose residents challenge the project arguing it will contaminate water and air plus spoiling their tourism industry along the River Uruguay which acts as a natural border for the neighboring countries. The dispute has become more acrimonious since Gualeguaychu residents and environmentalists begun blockading access to bridges leading to Uruguay causing considerable damage to the Uruguayan economy. The Botnia-Orion pulp mill is Uruguay's largest private investment in decades and local authorities refuse any form of dialogue with Argentina until the pickets are lifted. Meantime the controversy has escalated and Argentina has appealed to the International Court of Justice accusing Uruguay of violating a 1975 River Uruguay joint management treaty and Uruguay has complained to Mercosur that Argentina is obstructing the free movement of people and goods. "We are going to consider all of the facilitator's proposals, and we will then reply if we accept or not the suggested options", said Uruguayan Foreign Affairs minister Reinaldo Gargano. Royal envoy Yañez Barnuevo is scheduled to return Wednesday to Buenos Aires and Thursday will be back in Montevideo. Meantime pickets announced that this Wednesday they will be blocking the three land accesses leading to Uruguay to protest the Botnia plant and show the Spanish envoy the support they count with. They also made public a letter addressed to President Nestor Kirchner with a copy to the Spanish facilitator where they request Argentina demands from Uruguay the relocation of the Botnia-Orion plant "which is the only alternative to advance to a solution of the conflict". Relocation must be "outside the River Uruguay basin" and any other option is considered beforehand by the pickets as "sterile". "The people have made the defense of the environment a national cause, and will never claudicate from that struggle", underlines the text of the letter. Gualeguaychu protestors received an unexpected support on Tuesday when they were invited for lunch by the board of the all powerful Argentine trade unions movement. Argentina's top labor leader and close ally of President Kirchner Hugo Moyano said the "request of relocation of the plant to avoid pollution is fair", emphasizing that "the workers' movement fully backs Gualeguaychu demands". "Relocation of the plant is the only possible solution". Jose Pouler one of picketers' leaders who shared lunch with the labor bosses recalled that the Uruguayan labor movement before 2005 was against the pulp mills, "as was Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez, but God knows why, they've changed positions. We'll try and convince him to return to his original position: opposition to the contaminating pulp mill plants".

Categories: Politics, Uruguay.

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