Argentine municipal and provincial governments are helping finance the pickets protesting the construction of a pulp mill in neighboring Uruguay along the coast of a shared border river, was confirmed by officials.
Residents from the city of Gualeguaychu, alleging environmental consequences, have attempted for the last two years, unsuccessfully, to block the construction on the Uruguayan side of a 1.2 billion US dollars Finnish pulp mill which in November begun production. However the intensity and tenacity of the protests impeding access to international bridges linking with Uruguay, organizing incursions with speed boats along the river Uruguay and the River Plate and even marching in Buenos Aires before the Uruguayan and Finnish embassies surprised Uruguayan authorities which had suspicions about the sustainability of such "spontaneous" actions. Now the Argentine press following on Uruguayan officials' leads has confirmed that the so called NGO Gualeguaychu Environmental Citizens Assembly manages a monthly budget of approximately 13.500 US dollars with which protestors organize pickets, trips, press conferences and other actions. Some of the money is collected among local Gualeguaychu contributors but the main share comes from town hall and the provincial government of Entre Rios which provides in the range of 35.000 US dollars every six months. "We're always short of money, we really have to break our backs", said the Assembly's Treasurer Gustavo Rivollier, but on claims of government money vehemently replied "nobody here ever received a salary". But the Assembly has an office and a phone line in downtown Gualeguaychu financed by the city's government that also helps with per diems every time picketers travel to Buenos Aires. "It's true that the provincial and municipal governments help finance our social struggle, but what's wrong with that?" said defiantly Daniel Perez Molemberg one of the Assembly's organizers. "They are supporting a just cause speared by the people; it's only natural they should". Other sources of income include contributions from trade unions, professional organizations and other NGO environmental assemblies in Argentina. But finance sources are also controversial among picketers. The "dries" prefer to keep distance from government and possible agreements; the "wets" aim for strategic political alliances mainly with the Buenos Aires administration and others target the media and its impact on public opinion. However they all agree a basic line: protests must be peaceful and the Botnia pulp mill must be relocated. The "protests agenda" of this weekend included blocking Saturday and Sunday one of the three bridges and a boats' caravan incursion to Las Cañas resort, just a few miles from the Botnia plant and which on Sunday was packed with people basking in the sun and enjoying a swim. "We didn't get closer to the coast because of the huge display of forces. The place looked like a fortress", said one of the protestors Raul Almeida, who nevertheless said it was surprising "that people were yelling us to approach the beach and come ashore". Uruguayan officials confirmed that the bridge leading from Gualeguaychu to Fray Bentos next to the pulp mill "will remain closed for the coming future to avoid incidents". This means the only open bridge over the weekend was Concorida/Salto. Fray Bentos residents said they wished the Argentine boat protestors had come ashore so "we could teach them not to meddle in Uruguayan affairs".