Uruguay, Argentina to Cooperate on Energy, Environment
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and his Argentine counterpart Cristina Fernandez announced the adoption of a new shared agenda focused on energy and the environment, hoping to repair ties strained by a bitter dispute over a paper mill on the Uruguayan shore of a shared waterway (VIDEO)
By Raul Cortes
COLONIA, Uruguay – The governments of Uruguay and Argentina announced on Wednesday the adoption of a new shared agenda focused on energy and the environment, hoping to repair ties strained by a bitter dispute over a paper mill on the Uruguayan shore of a shared waterway.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who took office in March, welcomed Argentine counterpart Cristina Fernandez to his official country residence of Anchorena.
Joining the heads of state for the talks were a total of 17 Cabinet ministers from their respective governments.
The gathering produced a 27-point agenda and a commitment to meet again in 60 days to review progress on agreements to cooperate in areas such as trade, public health and defense.
On the energy front, Argentina agreed to consider a plan that calls for the construction in Uruguay of a regasification plant meant to supply both countries with natural gas.
Also on the agenda is a potential binational study of the environmental condition of the Uruguay River, which is jointly managed by Montevideo and Buenos Aires under a pact signed in the 1970s.
The 2005 start of construction of a paper mill at Fray Bentos on the Uruguayan side of the river – the plant began operating in 2007 – sparked an ongoing dispute that brought relations between the two neighbors to their lowest point in decades.
Fearing that waste from the mill would pollute the river, residents of the Argentine province of Entre Rios launched disruptive protests, blocking bridges for extended periods and virtually shutting down cross-border freight traffic.
The mobilization included not only environmentalists, but farmers and representatives of the Entre Rios fishing and tourism industries.
Even after an April 20 ruling by the International Court of Justice that rejected both Argentina’s allegations about environmental damage and Uruguay’s demand to be compensated for the border closures, bridge-blocking protests have continued in Entre Rios.
Addressing the ongoing dispute, Mujica said Wednesday that his government hopes to establish with Argentina “a mature relationship of co-existence” based on each side’s capacity to “understand the problems of the other.”
The Uruguayan leader did not say how he proposed to persuade the people of Entre Rios to accept the mill and stop blocking the bridges.
Uruguay and Argentina have had quarrels “since colonial times,” he said, suggesting that the solution lies in greater efforts to integrate the two nations’ economies.
Mujica also stressed the importance of an accord reached Wednesday to consider a joint project to dredge the Martin Garcia Canal, a move that would benefit the Uruguayan port of Nueva Palmira.
In her comments, Fernandez acknowledged the harm caused by the bridge-blocking protests in Entre Rios, but reiterated the Argentine government’s unwillingness to use force to end the closures.
“We know that repression is absolutely not the solution. It’s not in our political, ideological identity, nor in our DNA,” said Fernandez, who supports efforts to hold people accountable for the atrocities of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military regime.