BUENOS AIRES – Argentina and Uruguay reached agreement on Wednesday on joint environmental monitoring of the Uruguay River nearly five years after the start of construction of a paper mill on the Uruguayan shore detonated the most serious bilateral dispute in decades.
The accord was announced by the two countries’ foreign ministers after two hours of talks in Buenos Aires between Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and Uruguayan counterpart Jose Mujica.
“I want to express the pride and joy of having reached this moment after the fruitful labor of both governments,” Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told a press conference.
The environmental monitoring will begin at the paper mill in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, a project that sparked a years-long blockade of border bridges by Argentine activists and international litigation between Montevideo and Buenos Aires.
The legal fight ended April 20, when the International Court of Justice rejected both Argentina’s allegations about environmental damage from the paper mill and Uruguay’s demand to be compensated for the border closures.
But the court in The Hague also said that under the Uruguay River Convention, Montevideo should have consulted with Buenos Aires before approving construction of the paper mill, which began operating in 2007.
Following the ICJ decision, the two governments began negotiating in earnest on a plan to monitor the health of the shared waterway.
The pact announced Wednesday calls for the existing Uruguay River Administrative Commission, or CARU, to establish within the next 30 days a scientific committee comprising two experts from each country who will be responsible for designing and implementing an environmental oversight regime.
Besides examining the river itself, the committee will also conduct inspections of riverside industrial plants, farms and towns.
While it will be up to each country to implement the controls in its territory, the standards will be set by CARU.
Each site subject to monitoring will be visited monthly and the committee will produce periodic reports for the Argentine and Uruguayan governments.
The quarrel over the Uruguay River began in 2005 with the start of construction of the paper mill in Fray Bentos.
Fearing that waste from the mill would pollute the river, residents of the Argentine province of Entre Rios launched disruptive protests that virtually shut down cross-border freight traffic.
The mobilization included not only environmentalists, but farmers and representatives of the Entre Rios fishing and tourism industries.
Last month, the assembly of environmentalists in the Argentine riverfront city of Gualeguaychu voted to lift the blockade of one cross-border bridge on the condition that Uruguay agree to joint monitoring of discharges from the paper mill. EFE