A conflict that's getting out
By Fernando M. López
From the Mercosur Press Agency
The new discord between
Argentina and Uruguay over cellulose began with the confirmation of a credit
from the World Bank for Botnia. Kirchner described Vázquez as "intransigent."
Uruguay said that statement was uncalled for.
For now, the verbal exchanges
between presidents Néstor Kirchner and Tabaré Vázquez, who availed himself of
one of his principal ministers to respond to his Argentine counterpart, have
been typical of a classic, lengthy TV novela that unendingly recycles the same
trivial conflicts. Unlike fiction, however, the greatest danger in this case is
that no one knows exactly how this confrontation will end, and to what degree
that final outcome could affect the ongoing process of regional integration.
Let's start at the beginning.
The visit to Washington by Uruguay's Minister of Economics, Danilo Astori, was
vital to the World Bank's confirmation last week that it had granted a
$170-million credit to the Botnia cellulose mill in Fray Bentos. According to
the international institution, the theories about "catastrophic environmental
harm" to the Uruguay River are groundless; the bank also said the construction
of the plant, by the Finnish transnational Metsa-Botnia, has "significant"
economic advantages for the country.
Faced with a setback and filled
with indignation, the legislators from Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos, resolved to
blockade the border roads and bridges for an indeterminate period. The answer
from the Uruguayan government was immediate. As in previous occasions, it sent a
letter to Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana, through the Argentine
ambassador in Montevideo, Hernán Patiño Mayor, demanding a lifting of the
measure adopted by the activists from Entre Ríos.
Uruguayan Foreign Minister
Reinaldo Gargano said, in connection to the letter, that the border shutdowns
"violate not only the Treaty of Asunción, which gave birth to Mercosur and
guarantees the free transit of people and goods through the bloc countries, but
also the provisions of the International Court at The Hague."
The minister added that his
government plans to bring up the blockade of the border bridges at the meeting
of the Common Market Council (CMC), Mercosur's top organization, in the next
Let us remember that President
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the bloc's president pro-tempore, had decided to
postpone the CMC's half-yearly meeting from mid-December 2006 to January 2007.
However, the Brazilian government confirmed recently that will listen to a
request from Uruguay to hold a special meeting of Mercosur foreign ministers
prior to the summit of chiefs of state.
For a long time now, Uruguay
has pressed its intention to regionalize the conflict with Argentina, in an
attempt to gain the support of Mercosur's partners. The key lies in the ruling
of the bloc's panel of mediators who months ago questioned the legitimacy of the
blockades and warned that Argentina had violated the Treaty of Asunción.
However, the Uruguayans
constantly run into the refusal of the Argentine authorities, who are pressing
to continue bilateral negotiations that would better enable them to resist the
installation of the Botnia cellulose plant.
Within this context, we should
consider the latest statements from President Kirchner, who last week took
advantage of an official appearance to unload his criticism on President Vázquez.
"We went and begged the
intransigent Uruguayan president to please discuss with us how we could go from
there to Botnia so [the plant] will not become visual pollution and will not
create the possibility of future pollution. Botnia said no, and evidently it was
a strong no. However, the response from ENCE was absolutely different. We looked
for all possible ways to ensure the observance of the Río Uruguay treaty, but
[that treaty] was totally violated," Kirchner said.
The president also said he will
maintain his stance against the cellulose plant "no matter how strong Botnia's
interests are, no matter how strong are the interests behind this situation." He
pointed a finger at some press media that "fall silent once more" on the issue
and its possible consequences.
Gargano again responded to the
Argentine attack. "The president can hardly be called intransigent," he said,
adding that Vázquez sought "no other alternative but negotiation, balance, the
need to coordinate both countries, the joint monitoring of the plant."
This chapter is not over.
Undoubtedly it will continue for several days and soon we'll see if Uruguay
manages to regionalize the conflict with Argentina or if it proceeds on strictly
It would be good if both
governments reflect about their errors before the problem definitely gets out of
hand. It would be good if the presidents, appealing to coherence, forget for the
moment the proselytizing campaigns and the pressures from transnational
interests that harm the region so. It would be good if they engage, once and for
all, in a negotiation that has a more concrete chance to result in a solution.
What's important is to preserve
the process of regional integration and the cooperation among the peoples of
South America to revise, together, the model of (under)development that the
hegemonic world market attempts to impose on the countries of Latin America,
either through cellulose, mining or transgenic soy.
This may sound like a sermon,
but both Kirchner and Vázquez should re-read the works of José Gervasio Artigas
if they wish to lead their countries to success through sovereignty and regional
interests: "I shall not sell the rich patrimony of Uruguayans for the vile price
of necessity," that wise Uruguayan patriot once said.