Uruguay’s president-elect Jose Mujica said that the long standing conflict over the Botnia pulp mill, which has soured relations with neighbouring Argentina, will inevitably be solved but he will only be meeting with Argentine authorities and not with the pickets who are blocking bridges leading to Uruguay.
“The bridge issue will be unappealably solved and we will contribute for the situation not to worsen”, said Mujica following a meeting with Argentine Entre Rios province governor Sergio Urribarri.
The two leaders met in a farm in Tacuarembó, north of Uruguay, an event which had triggered much expectation in the two countries media since pickets have been blocking access to Uruguay for over three years, to protest claims (so far not proven) that the Botnia plant contaminates.
Pickets are camped in the outskirts of the city of Gualeguaychú which belongs to the province of Entre Rios.
Following the over two hours meeting Mujica said he was hopeful pickets would be lifted before a ruling from the International Court of The Hague scheduled to be announced before the end of March.
At the height of the dispute between the neighbouring countries, Argentina decided to take the dispute to The Hague arguing the pulp mill pollutes and that Uruguay had ignored on authorizing the plant, a treaty dating back to the seventies which governs the use of the waters from the shared Uruguay River, which also acts as a natural border.
President elect Mujica said the meeting with governor Urribarri opens a “path of dialogue” to solve the problem and advanced he felt “optimistic” about reaching an understanding.
Mujica has already talked about the issue with Argentine president Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires, a position which contrasts with that of outgoing president Tabare Vazquez who has refused point blank to talks with Argentina on the issue as long as the bridge which links Gualeguaychú with Fray Bentos in Uruguay remains blocked by the pickets since 2006.
The president-elect on the other hand has long argued that good relations with Argentina are “strategic” for Uruguay and promised “to discuss, discuss, discuss” until a solution could be found to the controversy.
Since his election last November, Mujica is known to have met on more than one occasion with representatives from the protesting pickets who impede all traffic across the bridge.
“We can’t live looking into the past, but face realities and look ahead”, insisted Mujica.
At the meeting the two leaders also addressed a long agenda of joint interest issues such as agriculture; a bio-technological development pole; a bi-national university on environment affairs; navigability and eliminating pollution along the river Uruguay; railway integration; energy and cultural issues.