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IW 06

Latin America

Uruguay-Argentina, the center-left contaminates

 

The controversy for the installation of two paper pulp plants, to produce raw material for the paper industry, has become a political crisis of some magnitude. The Chilean “socialist” Lagos, who is about to pass the presidency over to Michelle Bachelet, has called for a “summit meeting” with the Argentine president, Nestor Kirchner and his Uruguayan peer, Tabaré Vázquez.

The plants at the center of the conflict belong, precisely, to two gigantic conglomerates of the capitalist paper industry, Ence (Spanish) and Botnia (Finnish) that would produce 1,5 million tons of paper pulp and would be a kind of “enclave economy” for their products export. The right-wing Uruguayan governments that had negotiated the agreements with Botnia and Ence gave them advantages such declaring their properties a Free Tax Zone, giving way to a kind of private State of their own, where the tax laws of the Uruguayan State do not apply. The contract commits the Uruguayan State to compensate the imperialist bosses “for any kind of damages caused,” even by popular rebellion or changes in the economic policy. At present the Uruguayan Frente Amplio “leftists” are getting ready to extend this kind of agreement to any type of investment, in a special agreement of free trade with… the United States. The installation of this kind of “export factory” forms part of the overall plans for the “delocalization” of industries poisoning the environment.

In the past, the Uruguayan and Argentine leftists had written thousands of pages on this subject that nowadays had fallen into oblivion because they have recycled themselves before the masses, supporting “left” governments in the style of Lula, Tabaré and Kirchner himself. In fact, the implanting of the gigantic pulp factories is like a graft which distorts the national economic process which depends on the global market. This has already happened in the past: the Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos, where the pulp factories will be built, knew an age of splendor when some decades ago a big meatpacking plant of English origin, the Anglo, “breathed new life” into the region, letting drop a few crumbs of the extraordinary profits resulting from meat exports. When this cycle finished Fray Bentos never did recover from the depression caused by the shutdown of the meatpacking plant.

Environmental Depredation

But this time it will be worse. Because once the construction of the enormous plants is finished, it is already known that thousands of construction workers will be left jobless. The pulp mills, after start up, will not offer massive jobs, it is calculated they will employ 10% of the total workers required for construction. What will remain is the smell of putrefaction associated world-wide with this branch of the paper industry. Another result will be the poisoning of the Uruguay River, a frontier river, which runs between Fray Bentos with its Argentine peer, the city of Gualeguaychú, a more populated locality where a resistance movement has taken root against the environmental pillaging that the imperialist corporation will cause.

It is foreseen that the plants will suck some 70 million liters of water a day from the Uruguay River, which will be returned to the river at a very high temperature with chlorinated chemical compounds used in the bleaching process of the raw material and which will seriously affect the flora and fauna, as well as tourism, in the area. This compounds not only decidedly affect aquatic life but can affect human beings through their ingestion. The chlorinated compounds could cause disorders in the immunologic, reproductive and nervous system and many are cancer-causing. Mercury derivates used in the process of bleaching the pulp accelerates the pollution affecting the respiratory system. The plant will burn gases that besides causing an ugly odor will contribute to the greenhouse effect and a pollution phenomenon called “acid rain”.

The pulp mills have started their work of pillaging even before the construction of the plants. The business of pulp mills and forestry cannot be separated, and for many years, Ence and Botnia have been buying up, in Uruguay, hectares and more hectares of land on which to grow eucalyptus, the tree that is processed to get the paper pulp. This has caused the reaction of the farmers and big landowners who have publicized the terrible effects of mono-cultivated eucalyptus that causes the desertification of the land and destroys agriculture, apiculture, fishing and tourism.

Conflict between States?

In Argentina, nothing of the afore-mentioned is unknown, because the local pulp mills have been turning the rivers into immense sewers for a long time. It is “vox populi” that if this mega-project of Ence and Botnia did not end up on the “Argentine bank” of the Uruguay River, it was because they could come to an agreement with the Governor of the Province.

The ingredient that changed the characteristics of the conflict over the construction of the paper pulp plants was the strong reaction that began in Argentina in the border cities, and kept growing until it became a nation-wide cause, when some month ago there was an impressive rally of 40.000 people that marched towards the bridge linking Argentina and Uruguay in that zone. Since then a non-stop Popular Assembly was set up which has organized a series of progressive roadblocks of access points to the frontier bridge, leading up to an indefinite roadblock which at the time of writing of this article has been in force for a full month, and has taken the issue to a point of great political tension.

At the start, the “Argentine” rallies have, in a more or less open way, the participation of Uruguayan organizations. Not only “environmentalist”, but also the assembly of trade unions of Fray Bentos spoke out against the construction of the imperialist conglomerate plants and denounced the dire consequences. The struggle against the pulp mills is an old fight of the people because the whole business was started by the right-wing governments that were in power before the Frente Amplio took office. The Frenteamplistas themselves at that moment voted against the laws creating the legal framework favoring the foreign investors. As soon as they took office, the FA considered the “project” as if it were one of their own, raising it as a question of State (Whose State?).

Tabaré defends what he called a ”National Cause” denouncing intents of “destabilization”. He follows the route taken by Lula, when he stated that those who opposed the agreements with the IMF would be playing on the side of the “Destabilizers of the Right” — The Uruguayan “destabilizers” have now joined … Tabaré, who called a kind of native “summit” with the chiefs of the right-wing parties.

The Argentine government, on its side, is interested in channeling this question towards a negotiation between both governments, in order to depressurize the mobilization and the direct action of the roadblocks. Kirchner at the opening of the Argentine Congress, on March 1, demanded a three months' halt in the construction of the mills to allow time for a study on their environmental effects. Immediately, he sent his emissaries to ask for the bridge roadblocks to be lifted in order to ease the negotiations. At the moment these lines are being written, this proposal has been refused. The starting point to introduce a popular perspective is to call for the union of the workers and people of Argentina and Uruguay to demand, in both countries, the nationalization of the companies already operating, as well as those under construction.

The control of the negative effects derived from big modern industry is not a technical obstacle, the companies ruled out the existing solutions in order for their profits not to be affected. It is not just the case of the pulp mills. Former Chilean President Lagos, who is now offering himself as a mediator, promoted the “Andes agreement” with the Argentine government and surrendered the border cordillera to the pillaging of the mining exploitations, which are causing ecological disasters in the zone. It is not the “environmental” pollution but the capitalist one that is destroying the human habitat. It is necessary to organize the struggle for the nationalization of the natural resources and all pollutant industries and their location in the entire region under worker’s control. From the struggle for water and oil in Bolivia, to the struggle against forestation and pollution in the south of Latin America. It is the same struggle and is at the top of our agenda, driven by the decisive events of present-day history.

by Pablo Rieznik