Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Bridge Too Near?

From Buenos Aires to Uruguay, the closest overland crossing is the one between the Argentine city of Gualeguaychú (Entre Ríos province), on the right bank of the Río Uruguay, and the smaller city of Fray Bentos, on the left bank. This is, generally, a cheaper way of reaching Uruguayan attractions such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Colonia del Sacramento and the capital city of Montevideo, which are only an hour and 2-1/2 hours, respectively, by Buquebús catamaran from Buenos Aires’s Puerto Madero waterfront.

That overland crossing, though, has been closed for four years by Argentine pickets protesting the Botnia pulp plant erected on the Uruguayan side of the border. Since late last month, though, the Puente Internacional General San Martín has been open again to private and commercial traffic so that bus service can once again operate on the most direct route between the two countries. Visitors to Gualeguaychú, even if they don’t plan to continue to Colonia or Montevideo, can at least do a day trip to Fray Bentos, which includes attractions such its as Museo de la Revolución Industrial (the former Liebig’s Extract of Meat factory, pictured above) and the handsome Teatro Young. Likewise, visitors from Uruguay could once again cross the river to enjoy’s Gualeguaychú’s Carnaval del País, a celebration whose exuberant dancers (pictured below at an event in Buenos Aires) are only part of the Rio-type atmosphere. Merchants on both sides of the bridge, at least, should be dancing at the prospect of increased commerce between the cities.

I have written about Gualeguaychú and the Botnia controversy several times, and don’t care too spend much more time on the political intricacies at the local, national, and international level; there’s an excellent summary of this in a recent issue of The Economist. Suffice it to say that, while the bridge is open at present and the two governments are showing good will toward a solution that would include monitoring the river with a third party to break any impasse, it’s not clear that the asambleístas who have recently retreated from blocking the bridge will continue to do so: if, after 60 days, the two governments do not come to a final agreement that’s to their liking, they’ve vowed to resume their blockade.

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