December 11, 2013
Presidents avoid mentioning pulp mill
More talks are scheduled to begin today on request to increase output at ex-Botnia
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica yesterday avoided directly mentioning the Botnia-UPM pulp mill dispute in a ceremony held for the christening of a new Buquebús company ship that connects Uruguay and Argentina across the Rio de la Plata.
In the end, the big conclusion of the much-anticipated meeting was that there would be more meetings today.
The Buquebús ship was christened Francisco, after the Argentine pope. During the ceremony, Fernández de Kirchner sang the praises of Buquebús president Juan Carlos López Mena, the two presidents met behind closed doors to discuss the proposed increase in production at the Botnia-UPM pulp mill, which has brought about complaints from environmentalist groups.
The two presidents agreed a technical delegation from Uruguay would arrive in Buenos Aires to speak with the Argentine authorities about the Finnish company’s proposed production increase, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman told the press after the meeting.
Although Mujica had previously made it seem as though he had all-but-decided to allow the Finnish company to boost production at the plant following threats from the firm that rejecting its requests would force it to lay off workers.
But yesterday, Mujica was coy to the media: “We’ll see what happens,” he said. He highlighted that that it was most important to “take care of the river.” Earlier in the day, Mujica said that the discussion he would have with the president, he planned to highlight how Uruguay is “ a small country that needs to take care of its surrounding environment and must figure out a way to make different environments coexist.”
In public, it was difficult to detect any kind of tension between the neighbours.
It’s possible to have differences and discrepancies with other countries, “but we understand that maintaining unity is the only way to continue living together to keep working in peace,” Fernández de Kirchner said during her speech.
Earlier, Mujica tried to highlight the friendship that exists between the two countries: “We can get into disagreements, but before anything we are friends, and no one can take that away from us.”
Last week the diplomatic tension surged between the two countries after Mujica had hinted he had authorized the Finnish pulp mill to increase production in face of opposition from Argentina. The UPM-Botnia pulp mill would increase its production from 1.1 to 1.3 million tons if it is finally approved, despite the initial agreement being 1 million tons per year.
The Uruguayan government is leaning toward approving the increase, several of its officials have said in recent weeks.
History of the Conflict
The UPM-Botnia plant is located on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay river. It first began operating in 2007, leading to a rise in bilateral tensions and a three-year-long blockade of the bridge that connects Gualeguaychú and Fray Bentos city in Uruguay that lasted until 2010.
On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry threatened to take the case to International Court in The Hague if Uruguay permitted the controversial plant to increase production.
The ministry alleged that The Hague tribunal had established production limits for the plant and that if Uruguay seals an agreement on its own with the plant’s owners it would violate the Uruguay River statute.
Gualeguaychú Mayor Juan José Bahillo led a group of 20 environmental activists yesterday, bringing their complaints over the production increase to Environmental Secretary Juan José Mussi yesterday.
After receiving the letter, Mussi pointed out that “if the province creates a plan to monitor the river” the government “could help financially.”
Bahillo had said over the weekend that Mujica had given in to pressure from a foreign company that “only cares about profit at the expense of the environment.”
Herald with DyN, Télam