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Uruguay: International Court Rules in Paper Mill Conflict with Argentina

On April 20, 2010, the International Court of Justice at The Hague pronounced its ruling in the case against Uruguay for its violation of the treaty it holds with Argentina regarding the shared river, Rio Uruguay. The Hague ruled that Uruguay violated the treaty by not consulting with Argentina before allowing the construction of a pulp mill, but the court did not consider it necessary for the mill to be dismantled and relocated, because Argentina did not present substantial evidence indicating the mill is contaminating the shared river.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague. Photo uploaded by Flickr user Alkan Chaglar and used under a Creative Commons license.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague. Photo uploaded by Flickr user Alkan Chaglar and used under a Creative Commons license.

Uruguayans and Argentineans watched the ruling with attentiveness, waiting to hear and read about the result of a conflict that has soured Uruguay-Argentina relations for years.

Uruguayan bloggers commented on the ruling, and analyzed it from their particular perspective. The Uruguayan blog Las Cosas de Nestor [es] goes through The Hague’s pronouncement, putting it into more accessible terms. Pía López [es] commented on this post saying:

Lo que hay que rescatar de este asunto es que NO se puede continuar con esta falta de colaboración (mutua), y que como uruguaya me sentiría más que orgullosa si Argentina acepta mejorar las medidas de control y monitoreo pero CONJUNTAMENTE con Uruguay.

What we need to get out of this issue is that it is NOT possible to continue with this lack of (mutual) collaboration, and that as a Uruguayan I would feel more than proud if Argentina accepted to improve control and oversight measures, but TOGETHER with Uruguay

The day after The Hague’s ruling, the same blog posted another article, called “The Day After” [es] where the different reactions to the ruling are noted, including their own opinion:

Y nosotros, los comentaristas del blog, quedamos en algún caso con huevo en la cara (yo, por haber predicho que Uruguay no violó el Estatuto), otros indignados, otros resignados, pero espero que todos convencidos de que es una nueva ocasión de empezar a acercar a nuestros dos países.

And we, the commentators from this blog, are left in some case with egg on our face (myself, for having said that Uruguay did not violate the treaty), others outraged, others resigned to the facts, but hopefully all of us convinced that this is a new chance to start to bring together our two countries.

Some Uruguayans see the ruling as a victory. The blog Noticias Para Uruguayos Por El Mundo [es] (News for Uruguayans Around the World) titled their news-style post, “We Won at The Hague”

Uruguayan journalist and blogger Antonio Alvarez [es] wrote an article on his blog where he reports on the reaction to the case brought to The Hague, and in general about the conflict at large. The article is titled “Fray Bentos no cree en lágrimas” (Fray Bentos doesn't believe in tears). He reports from Fray Bentos, the Uruguayan city where the pulp mill is located.

Alvarez says that in three years more than 40 new businesses have been created thanks to the mill; he also states that as a consequence of the mill, Fray Bentos now has more restaurants, banks, better schools (some bilingual), and supermarkets.

Le pregunto a Leticia, una joven madre que está con su hijo en el acto si no es significativo este aire solemne a 24 horas del fallo.

“Aquí nadie da bolilla a lo que pase en La Haya. ¿Qué nos pueden decir a nosotros unos señores que usan peluquines y están a 20.000 kilómetros de acá? La verdad, nada”.

En Fray Bentos, Botnia quiere decir solución, una salida económica, algo en lo que ya ni se piensa porque está incorporado al paisaje y a la vida.

I ask Leticia, a young mother with her son during the event (on April 19, celebrating an important Uruguayan holiday) if it wasn’t significant that there was this solemn atmosphere 24 hours before the ruling

“Here no one cares what happens at The Hague. What can men with wigs that live 20,000 kilometers from here tell us? Nothing, actually”

In Fray Bentos, (the paper mill) Botnia means solution, an economic escape, something people don’t even think about anymore because it is incorporated into the landscape and their lives.

He goes on to report on the relationship between Fray Bentos and the neighboring Argentinean city, Gualeguaychú:

Botnia dio mucho al producto bruto pero también desató fuertes costuras entre una y otra orilla.

Fray Bentos y Gualeguaychú son una misma etnia, una misma geografía, un paseo corto inevitable para los fines de semana.

Para Fray bentos, Gualeguaychú suponía los mismos bailes, una televisión compartida, una misma forma de hablar, de entender la vida al costado del río.

Sin embargo, esos árboles genealógicos fueron convertidos en celulosa, y sólidas amistades sólidas terminaron descompuestas por las supuestas amenazas del ácido sulfhídrico.

Botnia yielded a lot of gross product, but it also untied strong bonds between one shore and the other.

Fray Bentos and Gualeguaychú are one same ethnicity, one same geography, one inevitable short weekend trip.

For Fray Bentos, Gualeguaychú meant the same dances, the same television, the same way of speech and of understanding life next to the river.

However, those genealogical trees were converted into cellulose, and solid friendships ended up rotten because of supposed threats of sulfuric acid.

A sticker placed on a thermus (next to the traditional drink Mate) reads, "Group of Uruguayans residing in Gualeguaychu say: Yes to the union of brotherly people." Photo uploaded by Flickr user sebaperez and used under a Creative Commons license

A sticker placed on a thermos (next to the traditional drink Mate) reads, "Group of Uruguayans residing in Gualeguaychu say: Yes to the union of brotherly people." Photo uploaded by Flickr user sebaperez and used under a Creative Commons license

After this ruling, Uruguay and Argentina are now the sole stewards over what happens with the conflict. In an open letter to the press –which everyone is invited to sign—in the blog Vamos a Andar [es], Allejandro Villaverde asks for the recovery of rationality, respect and neighborliness between the two countries:

Se ha cerrado una etapa. El Tribunal ha marcado una guía a seguir, la de la racionalidad, la de la cooperación, la de la no agresión, la de la buena fe. Ha defendido el derecho de los países a aprovechar sus recursos naturales para desarrollarse, en la forma que entiendan conveniente, siempre que respeten los derechos de sus vecinos.

A phase has ended. The Tribunal has marked a path to follow, one of rationality, of cooperation, of non-aggression, of good faith. It has defended the right of countries to take advantage of its natural resources to develop, in a way that they find convenient, keeping in mind that it respects the rights of its neighbors.

Uruguayan president José Mujica and Argentinean president Cristina Kirchner have agreed to meet to discuss the ruling and the steps to follow.

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