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Montevideo, September 29th 2023 - 02:57 UTC



The Botnia pulp mill dispute illustrates failure of Mercosur

Friday, February 29th 2008 - 21:00 UTC
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So much for the announcement, but even if the events were not to be held, the mere planning of the gatherings should help reveal the depth of the failure of Mercosur, as an ambitious vision, and the absence of Argentina's foreign policy for its national borders.

For no better evidence of failure take the overland route to Montevideo which includes a hazardous crossing of the river Uruguay by the Colón-Paysandú bridge. This is the main road pass since the patriotically environmental closure of the Gualeguaychú-Fray Bentos bridge began with the 40,000 strong demo on April 30, 2005. The hazards at Colón are not on the road, but in the politics and the public "servants." And the road blocking by "Poli" and her three (occasionally four, not many more) friends on the Colón side for two hours each evening, and Saturday night through Sunday, are not the worst difficulty (they seem suspiciously well supported, and the provincial bureaucracy is suspect) even if they are a nuisance. Customs corruption is rife, and worse on the Argentine side, of course, though often quite subtle. After dealing with the cuts, corruption and delays, which feel more like Romania in the Cold War than crossing the river between two good neighbours, the local bus (from Colón) and motorists have to negotiate the long queues of trucks awaiting clearance. Drivers park their trucks perilously on the hard shoulder ? which caused one vehicle to tip and roll down the embankment ? just after the bridge crossing in Paysandú. Drivers try to make the best of the wait, which incorporates dealing with increasing squalor. Fray Bentos has a truck park for 200 units, and facilities (including shelters and showers for drivers), but Fray Bentos has seen no trucks for months. Don't get the environmentalists wrong, there is a serious case of deteriorating quality of the river water, but there should have been diplomatic resources more firmly in place as from March 2004, when former foreign minister Rafael Bielsa and his then counterpart Didier Opertti signed agreements to monitor pollution in the river and developments at Botnia. President Tabaré Vázquez has had to deal with the conflict from the day he took office in March 2005. About a year ago and allegedly in a fit of peak, Vázquez is credited with the remark, "Mercosur no existe" (which is an interesting twist on the much used phrase, "el sur también existe" first used in an album in the nineties by troubadour Joan Manuel Serrat and writer and poet Mario Benedetti, the latter among the founders of the Frente Amplio in March 1971). The presidential quip was (allegedly) made when Vázquez was due to visit Dubya Bush, to signal Uruguay's priorities. Vázquez later corrected the aspersion, probably deeply felt, however, as the small members think of Mercosur as an Argentine-Brazilian club where the smaller fry get soundly buggered. And just to add to the diplomatic failure, the CARU (Comisión Administradora del Río Uruguay), whose offices are in Paysandú and its staff is paid in euros, is responsible for monitoring the river agreements. But it probably can offer no more notable achievements than a very attractive birdlife poster (by Fernando Raffo, now the environment secretary in Paraná) and, finally, this summer warn the public on the beaches not to swim in the poisonous green algae which is polluting "the river of the birds." And CARU does not include membership of Brazil, which has a substantial stretch of river border on the upper Uruguay (from Concordia north), where new mills and dams are planned. That is probably in part attributable to the seventies military "conflict theory" whereby Brazil was labeled "the enemy" at lessons in the military and diplomatic service colleges of Argentina. So Brazil is no bidder in solving the river conflict. By the way, Paysandú has had an Argentine consulate since early in the twentieth century. Argentina has consulates also at Salto, opposite Concordia, and for three months of summer, an extremely stressed out consul in Punta del Este. Paysandú was once an extremely prosperous river port. The Consulate in Paysandú has occupied a fine old (1860) building on general Leandro Gómez street for more than 30 years. With all that diplomatic presence, Argentina just might have been expected to manage its cross-border links a little better. by Andrew Graham-Yooll - Buenos Aires Herald

Categories: Mercosur.

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