December 6, 2013
Fierce tango II
If last Sunday’s editorial was dedicated to the latest reincarnation of the Battle of the River Plate over the pulp mill formerly known as Botnia, we see no reason to change the subject this Sunday, given the insistence of both Uruguayan President José Mujica and Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman on exchanging salvoes over this issue in recent days — especially since Mujica contributed an uncharacteristic divine reference for the Lord’s Day by saying: “The only person who can serve an ultimatum is God” (Mujica’s past record as a former Marxist atheistic guerrilla would seem belied by some of his statements in the last week, which also include urging prayers for the recovery of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner). Mujica was thus responding to Timerman giving him two days as from midweek to review his decision to step up production at the UPM pulp mill (the current name of Botnia, which sparked a fierce dispute lasting over 40 months between Argentina and Uruguay as from late 2006) and return to dialogue.
“It takes two to tango” were the opening words of last Sunday’s editorial and this remains true of the latest week of the spat. If on the surface it would seem to be Mujica provoking the revival of this running sore by unilaterally giving UPM a green light (also timing his announcement for an electoral month in Argentina), Timerman appears only too keen to pick up the gauntlet — for reasons which might well carry a hidden agenda relating to this month’s midterm elections and beyond. The pulp mill dispute brings into the spotlight the province of Entre Ríos housing the city of Gualeguaychú, the epicentre of the anti-Botnia protests which blocked its bridge to Uruguay for almost four years, and Entre Ríos happens to be ruled by Sergio Urribarri — increasingly the favourite of Kirchnerite ultra-loyalists who shun the aspirations of Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli as neo-conservative opportunism. Given that CFK’s lame duck status stemming from her August primary defeat has now been compounded by her recent health problems, Urribarri seems to be emerging as an increasingly central player and somebody to watch — and Timernan’s moves might well be homage to that fact.
“You never step into the same river twice,” said Herclitus 25 centuries ago but Mujica and Timerman seem to be proposing to do precisely that — not only reviving the same old dispute but steering it into the same direction of resolution by the World Court in The Hague (which ruled on this issue in 2010). Surely Argentina and Uruguay should be united by their rivers in common, not divided.