President Jose Mujica travels to Brasilia on Monday for the Mercosur extraordinary summit on Venezuela, but his agenda also includes talking with Cristina Fernandez about the latest clash referred to the dredging of a shared River Plate access canal and with host Dilma Rousseff about his growing proximity to Brazil.
Uruguay/Argentina reached a crucial point last week following months of negotiations to increase the depth of the Martin Garcia canal, crucial for Uruguay’s bulk grains, oilseeds and pulp exports when Uruguay’s government auditing office expressed “doubts” about the transparency of a contract for the maintenance of the River Plate canals involving the company Riovía, a subsidiary from the Dutch corporation Boskalis.
On Saturday Mujica said that until he had a personal chat with the “lady” in reference to President Cristina Fernandez, “I will not make any statements on the issue” particularly the exchange of communiqués between the two foreign ministries which paralyzed all negotiations for the dredging.
Pressed by the media Mujica said that “even if I don’t want, I must have meetings with the lady” and at those meetings “I will bring up any issue which I consider significant” because “I don’t have or need any script to talk”.
However from Buenos Aires President Cristina Fernández said she will be meeting her Uruguayan counterpart, José Pepe Mujica but “will not address the issue of the Martin Garcia canal and the dredging as all dialogues and efforts will continue in the hands of the Foreign Ministry led by Héctor Timerman”.
Differences on the dredging are one more of a long list of contentious issued which in recent years have eroded the bilateral relation. However since March 2010 when President Mujica took office he has adopted a negotiation position with Argentina to try and overcome the many trade and diplomatic issues. But this attitude has left Mujica on more than an occasion exposed to serious criticisms from the opposition who claim he is “too soft” with the “lady”.
But Argentina is Uruguay’s third trade partner and a leading investor in real estate and the main source of tourism, all industries crucial to the country’s economy.
In the case of the Martin Garcia canal the Uruguayan audit office somehow confirmed the ongoing rumours of attempted “bribes” (from the Argentine side) by the dredging company to have its contract extended, which infuriated Buenos Aires officials who froze negotiations and banned Riovía from any future tender, thus further delaying the process.
But Mujica given the extenuating efforts demanded from the Argentine side has turned to Brazil, The large neighbour is Uruguay’s main trade partner, and given the good chemistry between the two presidents, (Mujica and Dilma Rousseff) they have advanced in talks for a greater trade and production complementation.
“Brazil means a strategic alliance for Uruguay given its relevance at global level and in this framework we are advancing with accords in several areas”, said Diego Canepa the Deputy Secretary of the Executive.
These include a definitive power inter-connection between the two governments’ main electricity companies and a naval yard pole in Uruguay for the supply to Brazil of small vessels and barges, some of which have already been built for the pulp mills located in Uruguay.