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Conflict over paper mills flares up again
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Permission to increase productivity of paper plant causes trouble.

The ongoing debate about a paper factory on the Uruguayan-Argentinean border near the cities Gualeguaychú (Argentina) and Fray Bentos (Uruguay) boiled up when the Uruguayan government gave permission on Sept. 27 to increase the production of the plant by 10 percent. 

In response, the Argentinian Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman announced that Argentina is going to once again lodge a complaint at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Haag as it already did in 2006.

The Finish owned plant (UPM) was constructed on Uruguayan territory — on the banks of the Uruguay River shared by both countries — in 2005 and has ever since been a matter of argument.  Argentina assumes that the production has a strong impact on the fragile and complex ecosystem of the border river, which provides water for approximately 1 million people. According to the ICJ verdict of 2010, however, the country failed to provide sufficient evidence on the matter.

Argentina further accuses its neighbor of breaching obligations under the Statute of the Uruguay River signed by the two nations in 1975 which obliges both parties to prevent pollution and holds them liable for ecological damage. Timerman stated on Oct. 2 that “the unilateral decision of Uruguay compelled our country to turn once again to the ICJ as (the decision) affects environmental sovereignty [and] violates treaties between the two nations as well as the verdict of the court.”

Uruguay, however, as it has done during the previous trial, denies having neglected its responsibilities. Foreign Minister Luis Almagro stated that the Uruguayan government “has acted according to its international obligations at all times, especially concerning those contracted under the Statute of the river Uruguay.”

Ambiguous information
The bi-national Administrative Commission of the Uruguay River (CARU) investigated between 2001 and 2011 the environmental impact of the paper mills in both countries but could not come to an agreement concerning the findings. The Uruguayan government accused its Argentinean counterpart of incompletely informing the public by omitting facts that are favor the Uruguayan point of view. Samples for example of the mouth of the river were not taken into consideration. The Uruguayan government also argued that the level of the agrochemical endosulfan found in the river was 10 times higher on the Argentinean side.

The Argentinean side, however, fears deterioration in biodiversity, harmful effects on health of citizens and damage to fish stocks as well as tourism and related economic interests. It accused Uruguay of making exceptions for UPM disrespecting standard procedures in regard to temperature limits of effluent water. Timerm regretted that the Uruguayan government “privileges the interest of UPM over the history of two brother nations.”

In response to his statement, in which he added the Argentinean government was going to wait a few days before taking actions, the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry stated on Oct. 16 that an ultimatum was not acceptable. It proposed, however, to extend binational controls as well as to continue negotiations regarding the paper plant but refused to consider withdrawing the license granted to UPM.

Despite the discussions in the past weeks, environmentalist argue that the Argentinean government does very little to remedy the situation accusing it of “inactivity” and “lack of commitment.”  The Environmental City of Gualeguaychú Assembly, formed by residents of the region that has been active ever since Uruguay gave permission to construct plants in 2005, requests the closure or the relocation of the plant.
—Latinamerica Press.

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