Uruguay asserted on Tuesday its dialogue spirit for the coming two days meeting in Spain where the controversial issue of the construction of pulp mills, and alleged pollution, in shared waterways will be discussed with Argentine representatives.
"We are going to Madrid with an open mind and dialogue spirit, but we will not accept the relocation of the Botnia pulp mill", said Uruguay's Foreign Affairs minister Reinaldo Gargano who heads the Uruguayan delegation to Spain that also includes Cabinet Secretary Gonzalo Fernandez (and President Tabare Vazquez most trusted aide) and Director General of Foreign Affairs Jose Luis Cancela. Uruguay and Argentina are facing an escalating conflict over the construction of a pulp mill on the shared River Uruguay which Argentina alleges is contaminating. Pickets with the unofficial blessing from the Argentine government have for months been blocking access to bridges leading to Uruguay in protest for the construction of a 1.2 billion US dollars pulp mill belonging to Finland's Botnia. The case has been taken to the International Court of The Hague, to Mercosur's disputes tribunal and towards the end of last year the Spanish King Juan Carlos offered to sponsor in Madrid, far from the conflict area, "facilitating dialogue efforts". Gargano said Uruguay in Madrid will stand firm on three points: no relocation of the Botnia-Orion plant as requested by Argentina; rejection of Buenos Aires' claim that Uruguay ignored the 1975 joint administration agreement on shared waterways, and finally an invitation to Argentina for the joint monitoring of the River Uruguay waters. Spanish ambassador Juan Antonio Yañes Barnuevo, who did some shuttle diplomacy in the past few months in the River Plate, will host the negotiations in Madrid that are scheduled to last until next Friday, beginning tomorrow Wednesday. The Argentine delegation headed by Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez and Foreign Affairs minister Jorge Taiana will insist in the relocation of the pulp plant, or if not the suspension of construction until independent continued environment assessments are undertaken. The World Bank which partially finances the plant has been involved in several assessments but they have been rejected by Argentina as "incomplete and partial". Argentina has been insistent that the plant must eventually be relocated to avoid the bilateral conflict from becoming a "permanent" dispute issue. The Botnia plant is scheduled to begin production in the last quarter of this year which coincides with the Argentine presidential election of October, which has further irritated the Kirchner administration. Spanish sources have cautioned that "Madrid will not propose solutions" since "our task is merely dialogue facilitating", emphasizing that "the King is not acting as a mediator". On Monday a delegation of pickets from Gualeguaychu, the Argentine city which has been spear heading protests against the Botnia plant, delivered a letter to cabinet chief Fernandez addressed to President Nestor Kirchner, and marched downtown Buenos Aires to Plaza de Mayo and 9 de Julio Avenue. The Argentine press reported that the King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia expressed their "deep concern" over the escalating pulp mills conflict between the neighboring countries during the awarding of "Don Quijote" journalism prizes in Madrid.