Uruguayan president Jose Mujica and his peer from Argentina Cristina Fernandez will be meeting next 17 January on the sidelines of the Mercosur summit scheduled to take place in Caracas, Venezuela. This would be the first time the two leaders meet after over seventy days of interrupted bilateral dialogue, and they have a long list of issues to address if they finally decide to discuss them.
The last time Mujica and Cristina Fernandez met was on 30 September, in Buenos Aires during the baptism of the latest ferry incorporated to the Montevideo/Buenos Aires link which was named Francis Pope
At the 17 January summit, Venezuela will be handing the chair to Paraguay, recently fully incorporated to Mercosur, breaking the alphabetical protocol order, but consolidating the cohesion of the group which was strained over the Venezuela incorporation controversy, and Paraguay's 15-month suspension.
Besides the resumption of dialogue between Uruguay and Argentina, the meeting is significant since Mercosur is expected to iron out details of the different tariffs' proposal to be exchanged with the European Union for an ambitious, but repeatedly delayed, cooperation and free trade agreement between the two blocks.
Reaching an agreement on the proposal has not been easy because Argentina is reluctant to bring down its measures to promote domestic market and manufacturing, while Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay are anxious for a quick understanding to open more trade opportunities.
However the 28-member European Union is also having its problems since the proposal's exchange had been agreed months ago to take place at the latest on December, but only a few weeks ago, the EU requested the date be delayed because apparently they also have internal difficulties mainly arising from agriculture.
Looking back on 30 September at the time Mujica and Cristina Fernandez diplomatically toured the brand new gas powered catamaran but did not talk, and in their speeches there was no mention to the problems that had soured the bilateral relation.
Only a few days before the Uruguayan government had allowed the UPM/Botnia pulp mill to increase annual production to 1.2 million tons, a decision which made Argentina furious to the extent Buenos Aires threatened with returning to the International Court of The Hague to again discuss the issue, alleging further contamination and no previous consultation process.
The pulp mill is built on the river Uruguay, a natural border, but its waters are jointly shared and managed by the neighboring countries. Argentina all along has argued the pulp mill pollutes and claims was never informed of Uruguay's plan.
We share feelings and share interests. The river that separates us also brings us together, was the only public statement of Mujica on the occasion.
Allegedly the two presidents did meet for 15 minutes on the sidelines of the ceremony, but according to advisors present, dialogue was tense and unwavering with none of the two leaders yielding on their arguments regarding the environment and contracts.
Following the meeting Mujica said he wasn't asking friends to cave in: we can agree or disagree, but above all they are my friends and nobody is taking my feelings away; I will return to Buenos Aires as many times as needed.
Cristina Fernandez said that nations of the continent can have discrepancies, but all the presidents of the region have understood that unity is the only way to keep growing in peace.
However since Mujica did not yield on the pulp mill production increase, Argentina further delayed Uruguayan imports and appealed to Mercosur maritime agreements, not signed by Montevideo, which have meant the port of Montevideo has lost anywhere from 25% to 30% of its normal activity. This refers mainly to Argentine exports that were shipped through Montevideo because of costs and efficiency.
The situation since then has not changed, be it not for the fact the Argentine president was out of all activity for over a month because she had to undergo a cranium surgery to drain a couple of blood clots, and a follow up on her cardiovascular condition.
Likewise, Uruguay has been supplying Argentina with all the energy is can produce to help alleviate the rash of blackouts in Buenos Aires and other cities, because of a heat wave that has led to record consumption of power.