GROUP: WEEK 1 (Pulp Mill Controversy)
Gualeguaychu Travel Blog› entry 5 of 13 › view all entries
The commotion all began on April 30, 2005 in Gualeguaychú, when almost 50,000 locals blocked the international Puerto Unzué bridge. The protestors peacefully gathered to reject the planned construction by Botnia of Finland, and ENCE of Spain of two pulp mills on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River. These environmental concerns and protests which have frozen the bilateral relations between Uruguay and Argentina reappeared exactly one year later (April 30, 2006), this time gathering nearly 100,000 people. Many stakeholder groups, including the Argentine government, enviornmental and human rights organizations, and even nearly 40,000 community stakeholders filed complaints, marking the first time that a Latin American country has taken a neighboring state to international court over an environmental dispute. This growing concern has not ceased, and is of much debate and talk amongst Argentines and Uruguayans.
Our research shows that although ENCE and Botnia claim to use the most environmentally safe and best technological means for such a plant, there have been mixed results for such claims. On Wednesday May 10, 2006, ENCE and Botnia agreed on an “Action Plan” to establish further studies regarding the environmental impacts of such plants•including air, water, and soil pollution. Additional studies regarding the environmental, social, and economic impacts will be also be performed as part of this plan.
This multi-billion dollar investment on behalf of Uruguay can return huge profits in the long run, but the Argentines are concerned about the environmental repercussions of such an investment. The peaceful protests that have taken place have not been too promising for the Argentines, although they have made some progress.
There are a myriad of effects both positive and negative that result from the contruction and operation of two of the largerst pulp mills. Both Argentina and Urugauy will be effected by enivironmental concerns regarding pollution, but Argentina will not accrue any of the economic gains that Urugauy will. For instance, the employment that is created both during the construction of the pulp mills and after operation begins will potentially have a favorable impact for the Uruguayan economy. It is important to note that Uruguay residents are concerned as well about social and environmental impacts caused by the production of the pulp mills and Uruguayan government is in no way completely neglecting the issue.
The large growth in jobs is only one aspect of the many possible benefits for the Uruguyan economy. These two pulp mills are Uruguay’s largest foreign investments and the sales that are generated after the pulp mills reach production will dramatically reduce the Uruguayan trade deficit.
On the other hand, Argentines have immense concerns over the environmental effects of the pulp mills and believe that the environmental costs far outweigh the economic benefits. Their concerns are highly justifiable considering that pulp production is one of the largest polluting industrial activities. The Spanish provinces where ENCE pulp plants have been in operation exemplify the severe impact. The release of the carcinogenic chemical substances during the pulp production process have the potential to cause hormonal as well as neurological damage to humans and have been shown to weaken the immune system.
Concerns are not limited to just the environmental and health related issues. The environmental consequences of the pulp mills have also impacted the economies of surronding communities. Argentines that reside in neighboring provinces of the future site of the pulp mills, say that construction of the plants alone has had a negative impact on local economic activity, asserting that fish sales have dropped because no one wants to buy the fish they catch out of fear the fish have been contaminated. This is a dramatic loss for those families who depend on fishing for a living. However, proponents of the pulp mills dismiss these ideas on the grounds that construction is not even complete and therefore the fish could not have possibly been contaminated at such an early stage. They say that “fear and misinformation” are the only things affecting the fishing industry at this point.
Other concerns of the Argentines include water emissions and how they will effect the quality of water, as well as the fishing industries. They are also concerned with how the air quality will vary with emissions and how this will affect the agricultural industry. They also are concerned about how tourism will be affected by the pulp mills. They do not feel that the two (the pulp mills and tourism) are compatible in the long run. Deforestation is also a major concern since it is estimated that the two plants will require 810 square miles of cutting per year. Argentines are also concerned that no conclusion will be reached to assess the trans-boundary impacts.
The current conflict over the construction and operation of the pulp mills is no longer confined to the Argentine and Uruguayan provinces that neighbor the mills or even confined to just the countries of Argentina and Uruguay. The dispute between Argentina and Uruguay has escalated into a well known issue throughout the world. This case is especially important to the peaceful relations between Latin American countries since this represents the first time that a Latin American country has taken a neighboring state to international court over an environmental dispute”(ENS). The relevance of the situation is futher excerbated by the fact that Uruguay has contemplated pulling out of the regional free trade agreement established by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Relations between Argentina and Uruguay at times have been competitive, but they have always been peaceful. The current situation has obviously strained relations and has the potential to threaten and permanetnly estrange the two countries in the future.
The general consensus of Argentine residents in Buenos Aires is that there is a concern about environmental impact, but these concerns should not impede the construction process of the mills. It is believed that if proper steps are taken now to layout mitigation measures and specific controls on emission levels then both countries will be able to come to a consensus. However, residents in Buenos Aires are removed from the issue and are not directly impacted by the pulp mills. Those that are living and working in areas along the river do have valid concerns and these concerns should be addressed.
Concerns are shared by both Argentines and Uruguayans. Uruguayans, however, seem to have faith in the Finnish companies and believe that the right measures will be taken to ensure that the best technology available will be applied and that they will do what it takes to reduce emissions. The best solution is to take into account the apprehensions of both countries, setting up a specific regalutory process for emmisions and other environmental concerns.
Both Argentina and Uruguay have put forth legitimate concerns but the consruction of the paper mills in Urugauy should continue. However, production should only proceed after negotiations have been made and a general aggreement has been accepted by both parties. Awareness of the environmental impacts of the pulp mills has been raised and this is one of the most importants parts. Again, it is essential that an agreement is made between the governments of Argenina and Uruguay that will satisfy the residents of both countries.
ENS Environmental News Service, Argentina, Uruguay At Loggerheads Over Pulp Mills on Shared River May 9, 2006, http://www.ens-newswire.com.