Friday, April 23, 2010

Pulp Friction: Argentina, Uruguay and The Hague

Just two days before Earth Day, the International Court of Justice in The Hague settled, presumably, a longstanding dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over a pulp plant on the Río Uruguay, the border between the two countries. The Finnish company Botnia built the US$1.1 billion plant in the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos, across the San Martín bridge from the Argentine city of Gualeguaychú, in Entre Ríos province. Fray Bentos was once the site of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, which produced canned corned beef that was widely distributed in Europe, and the bouillon cubes known as Oxo; its site is now a museum.

Best known as the home of Argentina’s Carnaval del País (National Carnival), Gualeguaychú has acquired an undesirable notoriety over the past several years as a handful of protestors have, in effect, controlled the border by blocking the bridge over the river. The Court’s Solomonic ruling allowed both sides to claim victory: it agreed with Argentina that Uruguay violated a 1975 treaty by not consulting with Argentina over the plant, but also agreed with Uruguay that there was no evidence that it was causing any pollution whatsoever. Uruguay will not need to move the plant - the most expensive project in Uruguayan history - or pay any sort of compensation to Argentina. It will, however, need to consult with Argentina on any further developments on the fluvial border between the two countries.

The ruling, though, does not touch on the controversial issue of the border blockade, which for four years has virtually eliminated traffic and commerce through what, historically, has been the busiest border crossing between the two countries. In effect, the administration of former President Néstor Kirchner and the current government of his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, have abdicated control of the border - normally administered by Argentine customs and immigration. Technically, it’s still controlled by customs and immigration, but picketers have blocked the approaches and threatened anyone who wants to travel to Uruguay. Buses from Buenos Aires now have to use more northerly crossings at Colón (100 km north) or Concordia (a further 100 km), adding time and expense to any trip to Montevideo.

The issue, according to an editorial in yesterday's Buenos Aires Herald, is that “Ultimately no court in the world can tell an administration how to deal with the chronic domestic matter of protesters who block roads to voice demands. It is the President who after The Hague must now address the same question pending since 2006: should authorities allow an international bridge to be blocked forever?” According to an article in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, meanwhile, the intransigent protestors do not appear ready to abandon their blockade, having refused an offer from the governor of Entre Ríos to even discuss the topic.

Meanwhile, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana has called on the protestors to respect the Court’s ruling, and Fernández de Kirchner is due to meet with newly elected Uruguayan President José Mujica next Wednesday, a conclave at which the topic will undoubtedly come up. It’s still anybody’s guess, though, whether Uruguayans will be able to attend the 2011 Carnaval in Gualeguaychú.

1 comment:

aedi said...

The fact is that Argentina itself is the biggest polluter of the Uruguay River, such hypocrisy.
While the bridge blockade has damaged local economies and frustrated people who have to drive hundreds of miles (kilometers) out of their way to cross the river, what it's not in the news is that
the Argentinian government permits this blockade, in order to help the Buenos Aires port to compete against Montevideo’s that’s acting as an important hub for the whole region in detriment of Buenos Aires port, that is expensive and dangerous for big carriers. The Argentinian Government didn’t show any shyness in the repression of other protests.

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