A small group of Argentine pickets protesting the construction of pulp mills in a shared and jointly managed river with neighboring Uruguay took their complaints to Montevideo Monday morning where they distributed leaflets but finally had to be escorted under protection by police forces.
The pickets which traveled from Argentina and didn't number more than ten managed to hand out some leaflets in the heart of Montevideo, Plaza Independencia, and where at first supported by some Uruguayan environmentalists. However they were rapidly overwhelmed by a larger group of well organized counter protestors demanding the Argentines take back home their grievances and "don't interfere with Uruguay's sovereign decisions". The controversy over the construction of a pulp mill in Fray Bentos on the river Uruguay, just across from Gualeguaychu in Argentina, has residents and environmentalists from this tourism city in arms complaining about the alleged long lasting effects that contamination will have in the water, air and surrounding area. In protest they have blocked bridges leading to Uruguay, have attempted protests in Buenos Aires, crisscrossed the river in speed boats where the Botnia-Orion pulp mill is under construction and now in Montevideo, but to no avail so far. Relations between Buenos Aires and Montevideo are also strained because President Kirchner's administration believes Uruguay has acted unilaterally regarding the use of the river's water and has been reluctant to remove the pickets. Uruguayan authorities refuse to dialogue with Argentina until the pickets are lifted. The controversy is now before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Mercosur Disputes Tribunal but as the rift has become more acrimonious, both sides have accepted the "dialogue facilitating" efforts from the King of Spain. Over the weekend and following the second round of shuttle diplomacy between Montevideo and Buenos Aires from the King's special envoy, it was announced that "dialogue" was to resume in Madrid, far from the ever increasing heated atmosphere. However Argentina much fears that the ongoing delay over the dispute while the timetable of the pulp mill continues at full steam --and is expected to begin production trials this yearÃÂ¢€"could frustrate the whole effort. Finland's Botnia with the support from the European Union and the World Bank has repeatedly refused to delay construction of the pulp mill while a joint environment impact assessment study is completed, as demanded by Argentina. Uruguay stands behind Botnia since it's a private company that has complied with all legal aspects of the 1.3 billion US dollars investment. Ahead of Madrid Uruguay has also announced through its Foreign Affairs minister that "dialogue" is not the equivalent of "negotiations", because with pickets blocking access and damaging the economy, "there's no way forward", In related news a group of businessmen from the city of Colon in northern Argentina, where pickets were also blocking access to Uruguay, torched the hurdles and scared away the few picketers. Although in summer months Uruguay is potentially the big looser when Argentines flock to Uruguayan beaches, businesses on the Argentine side are also complaining about the pickets because the undervalued currency and cheap foodstuffs is a magnet for thousands of Uruguayan consumers who normally cross for their shopping in Argentina.