Tuesday, October 8, 2013

VOXXI: Renewed tensions between Argentina and Uruguay

Renewed tensions between Argentina and Uruguay
W. Alejandro Sanchez
October 8, 2013
Originally published: http://www.voxxi.com/tensions-between-argentina-uruguay/
As Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner takes a month off from office to recuperate from a chronic subdural hematoma  (she came out of surgery at 10:40 am EST) the interim head of state, Vice President Amado Boudou, will have his hands full when it comes to managing the nation’s affairs.
Besides addressing domestic issues (i.e. the fate of Kirchner’s entire presidency given the upcoming October 27 legislative elections), Boudou, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Hector Timerman, would be well-advised to address some of Argentina’s foreign policy challenges.
First among these are fixing with neighboring Uruguay, which are in dire need of a “reset button” given ongoing tensions over the expansion of a controversial pulp mill. Moreover, Montevideo has complained that Buenos Aires is not aiding them in combating money laundering, specifically regarding a highly politicized case that relates to Kirchner and her deceased husband.

A new Chapter in pulp mill tensions

An October 7  VOXXI article explains how Argentina’s international policy, under Kirchner, privileges nations like Iran, Venezuela and Angola while creating political issues with more traditional partners like Brazil and Uruguay.  “Political issues” with Uruguay may be an understatement.
Recent tensions with Uruguay date back to 2006, when Montevideo planned to build a pulp mill along the Uruguay River, which borders Argentina. Buenos Aires complained that this mill would severely hurt the environment, even though Montevideo argued that the necessary precautions would be taken.
As tensions increased, Argentina and Uruguay went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In 2010, the ICJ ultimately voted on Uruguay’s favor and the mill was constructed by the Finnish company UPM, ex Botnia. (The mill is located in the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos, across from the Argentine community of Gualeguaychu).
The problem now is that Uruguay wants to expand the pulp mill’s production by 30%. This has, unsurprisingly, brought about a new chapter of tensions between the two countries. Argentine citizens have carried out protests around Gualeguaychu in late September and early October to display their displeasure against expanding the plant’s production.
During the most recent protest, a local Argentine city official declared that “by increasing production, Uruguay has unilaterally broken its pact with Argentina.”
It is too early to tell where this dispute will end. Arguably, both countries could try going once again to the ICJ for a ruling – a September article in the Argentine daily El Clarin reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was contemplating this possibility.
On the other hand, Argentina may prefer to find some kind of bilateral agreement without outside interference given what happened in 2010.

Money laundering

Uruguay has also declared its displeasure as Buenos Aires has not provided Uruguayan government officials with information regarding an ongoing criminal investigation. Specifically, Lazaro Baez is under investigation for his role in a money laundering scheme out of Argentina, which used front companies and flew money to countries like Uruguay and Switzerland.
A parallel investigation is being carried out regarding Baez’s accountant, who purchased a ranch in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
What makes these investigations sensitive is that Baez and the money he laundered are connected to the late Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, the deceased husband of current President Kirchner. The late head of state has been accused of having illegally benefited from public money that exceeded the cost of the public works they funded.
Hence, the general belief is that members of the Argentine government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are deliberately not providing the Uruguayan government the information they requested to investigate Baez due to the politicized nature of the case.
Buenos Aires has refuted the accusations by simply stating that the Uruguayan request for information never arrived.

A reset button between Argentina and Uruguay?

Argentine-Uruguayan relations have a mixed record of close relations and incidents. Unfortunately, during the Kirchner presidency, there seem to have been more low points than high ones.
This is not to say that there are no recent examples of strong diplomatic ties. Most memorably, in 2012, the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the country would not allow into its territorial waters ships that had the flag of the Falklands Islands.
The move was a way to demonstrate Montevideo’s solidarity with Buenos Aires regarding its dispute with the United Kingdom over the Falklands.
But for every recent act that could be regarded as a confidence builder there seems to be a harmful counterbalance. For example, in October 2011, former Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez made the startling declaration that his government had considered a war scenario if the dispute of the pulp mill with Argentina deteriorated back in 2006.
Thankfully this did not happen and war was averted.
Vice President Boudou will have his hands full throughout October with domestic issues. But, should Kirchner’s health worsen and should the Argentine president require more time to recuperate, Boudou may be forced to address outstanding foreign policy issues, such as tensions with Uruguay, instead of delaying them until President Kirchner returns.

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