Uruguay and Argentina pledged Wednesday to advance in a wide ranging 27-point agenda but most important to work within a 60-day scheme to perform a bilateral monitoring of the shared river Uruguay, where the construction of a pulp mill on the Uruguayan side soured bilateral relations for several years.
The scheme is a decisive step towards the finalization of the conflict, which following a ruling from the International Court of Justice in The Hague opened the way for the understanding but remains clogged because of pickets blocking a bridge linking Argentina and Uruguay who insist the Botnia-UPM pulp mill contaminates, and was at the heart of the original controversy.
At the presidential and cabinet meeting which brought together presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Jose Mujica, plus ministers at Uruguay’s presidential camp residence in Anchorena, (fifteen minutes helicopter flight from Buenos Aires) it was agreed both countries would re-launch several bilateral instruments responsible for the monitoring and management of water quality along the river Uruguay, not only next to the pulp mill, but also to the north and to the south where it meets with the River Plate.
Referring to the activists blocking the Gualeguaychú/Fray Bentos bridge Mrs Kirchner said she did not approve pickets but “repression is not a solution; however “at this stage the roadblock is only damaging the lives of those living in Entre Ríos and across the river in Fray Bentos. In any case it’s up to the magistrates to decide on pickets actions, she added.
“The Court ruled Botnia does not contaminate, they are producing their million tons annually, and Uruguay and Argentina are committed to strictly complying with the resolution, so pickets are senseless and damaging at this point”, said Mrs. Kirchner.
Uruguay’s Mujica on the other hand was far more to the point and insisted that the roadblock in Arroyo Verde has to be solved by the Argentine administration with its people”.
“I don’t know when but what I know is we must follow a policy leading to that (lifting of the blockade). We want both communities to be able to cross the bridge and we will achieve it. What’s impossible some time takes longer”, said Mujica with a philosophical attitude.
“We are committed to a 60-days period to establish criteria, systems, instruments and international standards to monitor and look after the River Uruguay environment. The good will and understanding of the two presidents is opening the way for such a goal”, said Mrs. Kirchner.
This is the fourth meeting in three months between President Mujica and Mrs. Kirchner a dramatic change from the situation with former president Tabare Vazquez that had virtually frozen the bilateral agenda.
Other issues addressed at the summit included energy, trade, dredging access channels to the River Plate, health, education, defence cooperation and a formal support from Uruguay to Argentina’s claim over Falklands’ sovereignty and condemnation of the hydrocarbons exploration round.
On the energy front, Argentina agreed to consider a plan that calls for the construction in Uruguay of a re-gasification plant meant to supply both countries with natural gas.
Mujica also stressed the importance of an accord reached Wednesday to consider a joint project to dredge the Martin Garcia Canal, a move that would benefit the Uruguayan port of Nueva Palmira from where much of the country’s grain and pulp production is exported.
The summit and ministerial meeting ended with a declaration and the commitment to another meeting in 60 days when ministers must come up with tasks assigned.