BUENOS AIRES – Argentine environmentalists’ decision to suspend for 60 days the 4-year-old blockade of a bridge linking their country and Uruguay spurred optimism Thursday about resolving a bitter dispute over a paper mill on Montevideo’s side of the shared Uruguay River.
“It’s very good news,” Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana said.
Facing the threat of criminal prosecution, the assembly of environmentalists in the Argentine 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 at Fray Bentos on the Uruguayan bank of the river.
The assembly also demanded that the Argentine government drop its criminal complaint against the protesters.
The truce in Gualeguaychu “will allow us to work more enthusiastically to achieve effective compliance with the decision” of the International Court of Justice, Taiana said Thursday.
In a ruling handed down April 20, the ICJ rejected Argentina’s allegations about environmental damage from the paper mill and Uruguay’s demand to be compensated for the border closures.
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.
Wednesday’s debate in the Gualeguaychu assembly, broadcast live on television, was followed closely by Argentine President Christina Fernandez and members of her administration, official sources said.
“There is an international verdict that the two countries should obey. And it is that ruling which orders a joint monitoring of the shared resource, of the (Uruguay) river, and of what affects it,” Argentine Deputy Foreign Minister Victorio Taccetti said in comments posted on a government Web site.
Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, said the two countries have entered “an irreversible phase” in trying to resolve the worst bilateral quarrel in decades.
“We have to continue in that line and to ensure, now that we have constructed an agenda, that we can move forward on that,” he said in an interview published Thursday in Uruguayan weekly Busqueda.
“The time came to change tactics,” Gualeguaychu assembly member Jose Pouler said, acknowledging that the border blockade hurt the economy of Fray Bentos.
The dispute began in 2005 with the start of construction of the paper mill.
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. EFE