Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said that Argentina “is ready to sign” the deep dredging of the River Plane access canal Martin Garcia but warned that before doubts generated by Uruguay’s National Auditing Office regarding the performance of dredgers’ Riovía during the tender process, must be resolved.
“Where there are doubts, there must be light” to clear up things said Timerman in a Sunday interview with the pro government daily “Tiempo Argentino”.
Uruguayan diplomats allege that during the tender process there was an attempt by dredgers’ Riovía to have their contract extended instead of going to all the hassle of a new tender, and for which the company would be ‘particularly’ grateful.
According to the Uruguayan version the Argentine delegate acted as the liaison for such a ‘deal’. Uruguayan diplomats so stated before a Uruguayan parliamentary committee and the Auditing Office also questioned some aspects of the whole process.
Regarding the names of two diplomats, one from Argentina, Roberto García Moritán (former Deputy minister now working for the UN) and Uruguayan ambassador Francisco Bustillo and currently member of the River Plate Administrative Committee, Timerman said that “Argentina received no formal request from the Uruguayan justice” but Uruguay yes, “on July 4 it received a formal request from the Argentine justice which remains unanswered”.
Timerman added that Argentina continues to object the participation of Riovía (Dutch-Argentine company) in the tender for the deep dredging of the Martin Garcia canal because of the ongoing uncertainties of what really happened.
“If members of the Uruguayan government have expressed that there were attempts to bribe or attempts to influence and favour Riovía or that Riovía tried to benefit in an unduly manner, then we must look carefully before signing any contract. How can you sign a contract given that background?”
He added that it remains “nuclear” why “all those claims, that started to filter once we said we were ready to sign, can’t be taken before a court, according to the Uruguayan government”.
Timerman added “it’s hard to understand” why Uruguay has not yet dropped Bustillo’s diplomatic immunity if “we take into account he should be declaring on two different accounts” before the Argentine justice. The first refers to the bribe attempts and the second to the import of expensive cars tax-free and sold to Buenos Aires residents, when he was ambassador in Argentina.
Finally Timerman said that the current episode does not harm “at all” the relation with Uruguay. “I’m convinced of the strategic, historic and overall significance of a good relation with Uruguay”.
The River Plate has two main canals, one leads directly to Buenos Aires and the other runs along the Uruguayan coast and services Nueva Palmira, Uruguay’s main grains, oilseeds and pulp export terminal. The port of Buenos Aires is not interested in having an efficient effective port on the other side of the River Plate and appeals to any excuse to delay the deep dredging process which is needed so vessels don’t leave half full.
Since Argentina started to question Uruguay’s attitude, the Uruguayan government has said there will be no further comments on the issue. Uruguay is waiting for a bilateral private meeting between presidents Jose Mujica and Cristina Fernandez.