Representatives from Uruguay and Argentina will sit to dialogue about the pulp mill controversy at the end of February or beginning of March in Madrid, according to diplomatic sources in Montevideo.
"There's an overall understanding that the meeting will take place, at the end of February or beginning of March, but we still have to work out the format and we don't yet know if it will be political or technical", said Montevideo sources regarding the recent visit of Spanish Ambassador Juan Antonio Yañez-Barnuevo who is acting as a "dialogue facilitator" for the Spanish Crown. The two neighboring countries are tied up in a dispute over the construction of a pulp mill on the Uruguayan side of a shared and jointly managed river, which Argentina objects alleging potential pollution and violation of bilateral treaties. Argentina pickets protesting the construction of the Finnish Botnia-Orion plant have been blocking bridges leading to Uruguay for months. Last Friday Ambassador Yañez-Barnuevo announced that a dialogue table would be installed in Madrid, but no dates or further details were advanced. On Monday Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez informed a cabinet meeting that his government had accepted the Argentine condition that no more pulp mills would be built along the coast of the river Uruguay. However he also underlined that dialogue does not mean negotiation and Uruguay stands on its conditions: negotiations only if all blockades are lifted and guarantee that they will not be repeated. Furthermore Uruguay does not accept the relocation of the Botnia-Orion plant as demanded by the protestors from Gualeguaychu, just across Fray Bentos where the pulp mill is under construction. With prospects of a dialogue round, which should help ease tension between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, irritation at grass root level actually increased when on Monday Argentine activists who traveled to Montevideo to hand out leaflets had to be escorted by the police to avoid being mobbed by a crowd of angry Uruguayans protesting Argentine interference in domestic affairs.