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Increased tensions between Argentina and Uruguay

By Tony Pagliaro

Buenos Aires 25.01.06 | Three different major pulp and paper projects seem to have dramatically altered the traditional good relations between Argentina and Uruguay. Well known foreign investors from the pulp and paper sector, originating in Finland, Spain and Sweden, are moving forward with three gigantic new factories to be erected on the eastern side of the Uruguay river. All of them considered, in due course, the possibility of locating their respective factories in Argentina’s territory, but ended up selecting Uruguay. Apparently, this was caused by various factors which determined that over two billion dollars worth of direct investments should now benefit Uruguay and only marginally impact in Argentina. These may the reasons.

First, Argentina's total lack of respect for the Rule of Law. The Kirchner’s allow all sorts of violent protests and intimidation, and frequently encourage them, since every Ministry has a “liason” office with the various “piqueteros” groups. Further the government systematically refuses to protect property rights.

Second, there are rumors that people very close to the Governor of Entre Ríos, Mr Busti, who like the Kirchners has previous ties with the Marxist guerrilla of the 70’s, may have made some “under the table” unacceptable requests to the prospective investors.

Third, Argentina's constant “bullying” of foreign investors, whose projects are not welcomed by the Kirchners.

The fact is that with the indirect support of both President Kirchner and Governor Busti, international commercial traffic and even normal border traffic has been stopped and cars and trucks cannot go through the various international bridges which connect Argentina and Uruguay, which are now “privately” blocked by “environmentalists”, allegedly on their own. Governor Busti, however, has more than once granted administrative holidays to public officers and students to “help them” attending the protests. Important Chilean exports have now been frozen on the road. They are trapped in Argentina and all Chilean trucks carrying Chilean goods, in transit, for the pulp and paper projects are not “authorized” to cross the river by “private activists”.

The Argentine government seems therefore to be “protecting” a small group of “ecoterrorists”, that in fact seem to be above the law, since they can do whatever they want. Since the Federal Judge of Concepción del Uruguay (from whom the Chilean carriers are requesting an order to free their trucks and goods) is in recess, the administration “caused” that a junior Secretary of the Court of Appeal of Paraná (probably “functional” to Busti) be appointed as his “ad-hoc” replacement, sidestepping the normal procedures. Once again, it looks that, in Argentina, public officers can manipulate the judiciary whenever their deem convenient.

President Tabaré Vázquez, of Uruguay, has publicly stated that he and his people will not consent to be bullied by the Kirchners. A difficult and emotional conflict is brewing that should be stopped before it becomes a major problem.

The Kirchners should learn that it is not easy to bully and/or push other countries and interfere in their domestic affairs without causing some legitimate and dangerous reactions. The world’s list of “bully countries” is a very short and dark one: North Corea, Iran, Venezuela and, now, apparently, the Kirchners’ Argentina.

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