Argentine blockade irks neighbours

A caterpillar is the only thing that can be seen moving these days on a road that leads to the bridge linking Uruguay and Argentina

Argentine blockade irks neighbours

The Libertador General San Martín bridge would normally be packed with tourists and trucks, especially at this time of year which is holiday season in South America.
But for more than six weeks Argentine activists from the nearby town of Gualiguaychu have been blocking the international route to demand the dismantling of an enormous pulp mill under construction on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River.

The cause of the Gualeguaychu activists has attracted international coverage since they began their crusade more than a year ago to stop the Finnish pulp mill manufacturer Metsa-Botnia, from building the plant.

The Orion plant is the largest ever foreign investment in Uruguay and the government claims state of the art technology will prevent contamination. But residents of Gualiguaychu do not believe a word of it.

Tourism threat

"It's obvious to anyone that the pulp mills will contaminate our environment. I have five children and three grandchildren, I'm doing this for them," says Estela Vence who has lived in a donated bus since the road block began.
Javier Villanueva, another activist, told Al Jazeera the mill will also damage the local tourist industry.

"The main vacation spot of the Uruguay River would have a smoke stack for a backdrop," he says.

"We cannot market that, we value our clean air and clean water. Who would come here from the big city to relax… for a smoke stack?"
The road block, meanwhile, is severing the main land artery between Argentina and Uruguay, preventing tens of thousands of Argentines from getting to their favourite summer getaway, the Uruguayan beaches of Punta del Este, at the height of the season.
And the Argentine government is doing nothing to stop it, claiming the demonstrations are sporadic and not disrupting construction of the mill.
Uruguay is furious claiming the blockade is not simply an inconvenience for a few holidaymakers but the strangulation of its economy.

However the World Court turned down a request by Uruguay on Tuesday, lodged in December, to force Argentina to remove blockades on the roads between the neighbouring states.

Case history

The court also urged both sides to refrain from any action that would hinder a resolution of the dispute over the multimillion-dollar mill.

"This decision... places a responsibility on the governments of both countries to try to look for a solution in dialogue," said Hector Gros Espiell, representing Uruguay.

However Tabare Vazquez, Uruguay's president, has said he will not accept any mediation, even from the king of Spain.

The case began in 2006 when Argentina took Uruguay to the World Court in The Hague, accusing it of violating a 1975 bilateral treaty by not giving enough information on the mill.

The mill is the biggest ever
foreign investment in Uruguay

The court said on Tuesday it was not convinced the blockades risked harming the rights claimed by Uruguay under the 1975 statute and had not delayed the mill's construction.

Growing apart

A judgement on whether Uruguay had breached the 1975 treaty, under which all issues regarding the water of the river must be consulted on and agreed by both countries, is expected within two years, according to the court.

"This is a decision that satisfies us... there's no proven damage done to Uruguay," Jorge Taiana, the Argentine foreign minister, told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Reinaldo Gargano, the Uruguayan foreign minister, told local radio the court's ruling was a surprise.

"The decision says it's alright for people to sit down on deckchairs in the middle of the road and block the transit of goods, people, buses and vehicles," Gargano said.

The feud is unprecedented between two countries which have always regarded each other as family, sharing the same accent, same culture, and now similar centre-left governments.

But as activists in Gualiguaychu pledge to maintain their protest the two countries are now separated by more than just a river.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16