Uruguayan and Argentine delegates will meet next April 18/20 in Madrid to address the ongoing pulp mill controversy, following on the dialogue facilitating efforts sponsored by the King of Spain at the end of last year.
"In the framework of the good offices assumed by His Majesty the King and to facilitate dialogue between the two republics, next April 18 to 20, delegations from both countries will be meeting in Madrid", confirmed a mid week release from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez closest aide, Secretary of the Executive Gonzalo Fernandez will be heading the Uruguayan delegation and Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernández the Argentine group. Last November during the Ibero-American summit and on request from Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, King Juan Carlos agreed to a "dialogue facilitating" effort between the two countries that have been at loggerheads over the construction in Uruguay of a pulp mill, which Argentine environmentalists and residents object as contaminating and Buenos Aires claims ignores a 1975 agreement for the joint administration of shared border rivers. For Uruguay, Finland's Botnia 1.3 billion US dollars plant is the country's major private investment in decades and Montevideo refuses to relocate the pulp mill or suspend construction as demanded by pickets that for months have been blocking bridges leading to Uruguay in protest. Uruguay has accepted "dialogue" but has systematically refused "negotiations" while bridges remain blocked by pickets which it accuses of causing millions of dollars in damages to the economy. Since last November the King's special envoy Ambassador Antonio Yañez Barnuevo has traveled twice to the River Plate in an effort to bring both sides together. The shuttle diplomacy has seen him fly three times between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, meeting presidents Vazquez and Kirchner. The last time was February and the next date is Madrid. Almost at the same time of the Spanish announcement in Madrid President Tabare Vazquez reiterated Uruguay's position of no negotiations with bridges blocked and confirmed the Botnia plant will be finished according to timetable and "where it is under construction", thus discarding any relocation option. President Vazquez made the announcements in Fray Bentos the city at the heart of the controversy and where the pulp mill under construction is almost 70% finished having already completed water trials with much of the equipment. The plant is next to the River Uruguay which acts as a natural border between the neighboring countries. "The plant will be finished and in production this year, exactly where it is under construction now. You have my word", said President Vazquez who nevertheless reiterated to Argentina the offer of a joint environmental monitoring to check on any possible contaminating effects from the pulp industry.