Conflict over the Uruguay River paper mills

Conflict over the Uruguay River paper mills

By Walter Falco

Those who today make decisions that affect the lives of peoples may come to be judged - in the future - by some prestigious court as criminals against nature for the crime of ecocide. For now they are safe because international regulations have not yet been established to punish those who, acting as rulers, commit such crimes.

Killer plants, trapped companions

Those who today make decisions that affect the lives of peoples may come to be judged - in the future - by some prestigious court as criminals against nature for the crime of ecocide. For now they are safe because international regulations have not yet been established to punish those who, acting as rulers, commit such crimes. Because unfortunately this is what our government does by allowing the installation of pulp mills without requiring the use of technology that, in the pulp manufacturing process, guarantees a lower level of contamination, that is, the so-called TCF (Totally Free Chlorine), since it is a closed cycle technique, with almost no liquid effluents.

Despite the enormous risks that it implies and that the use of TCF does not guarantee that there is no contamination and that it will occur in any way, mainly due to the gigantic volume of toxic substances that will be discharged into the environment, into the water, onto the land. and to the air as a result of a large-scale industrial process, the demand for its application would be a less ominous way of supporting the imposition of these plants, the installation of which will bring the country much more harm than good.

There are two central aspects in the debate on the installation of Botnia and Ence cellulosics (it is a mistake to call them paper mills because they will not produce paper but cellulose pulp for export and for other uses, so that those who argue about the fatal need to manufacture paper urinate out of the jar, some out of ignorance, others on purpose) and which are, namely: the creation of jobs and the degree of pollution that these industries will cause.

Regarding this last point, it is evident that information has been hidden from public opinion, both from companies and from the government and from international organizations. It is sad to see how our leaders and some colleagues, when consulted by the press, argue that "if the World Bank report says there will be no pollution ...".

Is it that now the reports of the World Bank are reliable ?, when all its life that institution has been characterized by investing millions of dollars in technical reports whose results have been, invariably, favoring large transnational companies to the detriment of small national companies , favor the rich countries against the poor countries and within these, favor the rich classes to the detriment of the poor classes. The eternal discourse of the World Bank -as well as of other similar international financial organizations- is: “we do what we do to favor the poor”, and the eternal result of the actions of that entity is that poor countries like ours and their Once the poor within each country are the eternally harmed. Why do we have to trust World Bank reports now when they have always screwed us up?

But what seems the height of naivety or shamelessness - who knows - is that nobody seems to realize that it was absolutely logical that the World Bank approved the loan, because lending money at interest is one of the main activities of a bank and for the financial operation to take place it was an essential condition that the environmental report be favorable to the plants. The impudence, the cheekiness, of these people has no limits: with a foolproof cynicism they gave the pompous title of ombudsman (ombudsman) to the person who ran this operation financed by the World Bank to deceive the unwary. And the sad thing is that so far no voices have been heard that question such deception. Worse: to the shame of the Frente Amplio people, its leaders handle this report as if it were a revealed truth1.

Without plants there was no business, with plants, on the other hand, another good business was generated for the World Bank, a business that to make matters worse we are going to have to end up paying from our own back. Because, in case you don't know, my friend, the Botnia company announced that, in reality, it does not have the money that it previously claimed to have and that it cannot invest what it announced that it was going to invest, and that is why it borrowed from the Bank Mundial, but not only, he also asked the Uruguayan government for money and this has already granted him several privileges, among others a generous tax exemption (the area where the plant is built and the port have become a free zone, among other perks) . That is money that all Uruguayans are going to have to put out of our pockets. So arguing on the basis of a technical report flawed, invalid and ethically inadmissible due to the conjunction of interests, is reverend nonsense, if not something even more serious.

And what that report does not say, nor any of those that have been prepared so far, is that the contamination that Botnia and Ence will cause will be really serious and harmful. In particular because the ECF technology will be used (which stands for Partially Chlorine Free or Elemental Chlorine Free according to its acronym in English). It is a technology that is about 15 years behind the TCF system and whose use is seriously questioned, restricted and controlled in developed countries. Even the modest Fanapel has plans to convert to TCF, as it is a processing method that minimizes risks and reduces environmental damage, which are often unavoidable in this type of industry.

One wonders if a small national industry, like Fanapel, which in Juan Lacaze produces between 30,000 and 35,000 tons of paper pulp per year, is capable of reconverting and using the TCF, why can't these transnational monsters that foresee a gigantic production, 50 times greater: one million tons per year Botnia and half a million Ence.
The reasons seem clear: the ECF system is significantly cheaper than the TCF and the Uruguayan government has not bothered to require that the latter be applied, which it should do as a minimum condition prior to the installation of these plants

Currently there are only two plants in the world that produce one million tons and they are not in Spain or Finland but in China and Brazil. The installation of these plants in Uruguay, which together will become the world's largest pulp producer with one and a half million tons per year, is part of a vast plan by the countries of the North to transfer a large part of the highly toxic industry to the territories of underdeveloped countries. A strategy that fulfills several objectives, among them: to remove the danger of pollution from the central countries - that the poor are poisoned - since in most poor countries there is no developed ecological awareness or adequate means to control polluting industries; and to produce with significantly lower costs: tax privileges, tax exemptions, cheap raw materials and labor. This strategy includes the imposition of a forestry model based on the monoculture of fast-growing species in most of the underdeveloped countries.

On the other hand, those who defend the installation of cellulosics maintain that they are positive because they will generate jobs. Nothing more false. It is true that, partially, during two or three years, while the construction of the plants lasts, some jobs will be created in construction and in complementary industries and services, but that is bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.

In reality, the Botnia plant will only employ about 300 people, most of whom will be technicians and a high percentage will be foreigners. There will only be a few places for highly skilled operators and there will only be eight jobs for people from middle school down. So the famous jobs for Fraybentinos will come to nothing: not even think that a job will be generated for a Uruguayan from other latitudes, unless it is a technician or professional specially trained to work in the industry and who has similar luck. to winning the Five of Gold, because the jobs, if any, will be very few.

But the worst thing is that the number of jobs that this industry is going to destroy will be significantly greater than those it is going to create. Hundreds of jobs will be lost in agriculture, agriculture, beekeeping, fishing, hotels and tourism, among other important areas of the economy, not only for Fraybentinos but for the entire country.

It is proven that, of all economic activities in rural areas, forestry is the one that employs the least labor, even less than extensive cattle ranching, an activity that had the worst rate in the country before afforestation began. Just one example: ten thousand forested hectares employ, on average, 45 people. In the same area, horticulture (an activity that is in the middle of the ranking table in terms of job generation) provides 1,330 jobs, that is, thirty times more than forestry2.

Furthermore, forestry jobs are those of the worst quality, status and remuneration, to the point that they have been classified as slave labor. The experience of afforestation in the last twenty years reveals that this industry has destroyed ecosystems, has deserted fertile lands suitable for livestock and agriculture, has driven settlers from their lands and has destroyed hundreds of jobs in various areas, impoverishing the country and its future possibilities3.

However, there are those who are not resigned to losing their investment in forestry and at the expense of the suffering of the rest of the country and the high risk of a very serious environmental deterioration, they pressure the government to turn Uruguay into a forestry country, that is, to stop from being the "Natural Uruguay" whose image has been promoted in advertising and becoming a kind of banana republic of the transnational forestry companies.

The damages for the country will be enormous, in particular for the department of Río Negro itself, whose resort Las Cañas, one of the most beautiful and with the greatest tourist attraction in the country, located eight kilometers downstream from Fray Bentos, will be the main affected . Who is going to spend the summer in a place where there is a rotten egg smell? Who is going to bathe in the waters of a beach on which thousands of liters of chemical substances dangerous to health will be dumped daily, in particular the already known persistent organic pollutants (POPs)? The jobs that will be lost in this tourist area have not yet been evaluated but they will add up to a significant figure.

By the way, by allowing the installation of cellulosics the government will violate international agreements that the country itself signed, such as the Stockholm convention to reduce the emission of dioxins and furans. Uruguay, against the grain of the world, will increase the emission of these substances.

But not only the tourism of Fray Bentos will suffer, also that of the whole country and in particular that of the East coast, because the image of "Uruguay Natural" has already been very deteriorated by all this matter and the stubborn refusal of the government The Uruguayan citizen to listen to the protest of Argentine environmentalists and the warnings of Creole environmentalists has caused enormous damage to the country's tourist possibilities, particularly that of the coming years. Tourism represented in 2005 a high percentage of total foreign exchange earnings to the country, so putting the continuity of these earnings at risk is an attack on the country's economy and against the interests of the country itself.

But the most serious thing is that if the government maintains its stubborn position, there is a risk that the conflict with Argentina will escalate to the point of putting into question the commercial relations with the main buyer of our exportable production4.

In order to defend a favorable position for cellulosics - unsustainable, at this point - one of the main supports of the country's economy is put at risk: exports to the Argentine market. We must not forget that boycott campaigns for certain products or brands, which the environmental organization Greenpeace usually uses as a method of struggle, tend to be successful and greatly affect the consumption of such merchandise. Is it worth exposing ourselves to that risk, which is already a reality on the horizon?

On the other hand, when our international label "Uruguay, Natural Country" loses its reliability in the eyes of international consumers, tourism suffers and the world begins to stop buying our products, I am not saying trees, but meat, leather, wool, dairy products, cereals. or any other "natural" product, what is this government going to say to the people? Garlic and water?

If the installation of these plants brings so many problems and so few benefits, why are our governments still determined to support them? The Frente Amplio have not wondered why the main political leaders of the Colorado Party and the National Party support the government on this issue almost more fanatically than the left militants themselves?

Of course, they do not seem to have noticed that a great media paraphernalia has been mounted in favor of the plants, diligently to disqualify any contrary opinion, identifying the matter as if it were a national cause, in a permanent bombardment that recalls the Goebbelian methodology on the matter. informative.

It is not because this benefits the country, it is because such political organizations are involved with the forestry model, in particular Lacalle and company, and that is why the Herrerista leader has expressed his unconditional support for Vázquez in this matter. On what, then, is the government's position based? (See box).

One end of the ball from which to begin to understand such a mess seems to be the fact that a large part of the Uruguayan professional sector - lawyers, doctors, notaries, architects and other professionals -, as well as other sectors of the middle and upper class (banks and bankers) in the recent past made large investments in afforestation and now pressure the government to favor the installation of plants, which would give a quick, safe and economical exit -without the cost of freight- to the thousands of trees they occupy today a good part of the national territory.

It is known that in the 80s and 90s many university professionals invested in forestry. The case of the professional, notary and banking funds is paradigmatic, which have large forested areas. The fact that the banking union (AEBU) supported an agreement between Botnia and Caja Bancaria for this institution to provide wood to the Finnish transnational is already known. If to this background we add that some leftists still hold the illusory dream of returning to the industrialist past, with many factories fuming from their chimneys and with the growth of the industrial proletariat as the backbone of a future social revolution, then one can begin to understand why on the left there are very few who question this new barbarism to which the empire wants to subject us and that the Frente Amplio government more than tolerate, supports with unusual fervor.

The bribe, the shark and the sardine

Despite the fact that the Uruguayan Foreign Minister has maintained that our government does not accept bribes, suggesting in an elliptical way that the Argentine authorities would have done so, had the opportunity been given, it is undeniable that all Uruguayan political parties with parliamentary representation (including the Frente Broad) already accepted the money that the Botnia and Ence companies put on the table to finance the trips of a large group of parliamentarians to the old continent, who traveled with all expenses paid with the excuse of going to inspect the pulp mills in their respective countries.

The real thing is that there is a lot of money involved, that these companies do not skimp on financing gigantic advertising campaigns in their favor or in appealing to whatever medium is to gain followers, and that the purchase of consciences is on the order of the day. They have even organized mass parties and given away tons of toys and school supplies in the poor neighborhoods of Fray Bentos to attract the sympathy of public opinion. If one were not so gullible, one might come to think that it is pure demagogy.

Recently, it was reported that the Botnia company paid a little more than four thousand dollars to an environmentalist leader from Fray Bento to act underhandedly among Uruguayan environmentalists with the aim of stopping the protests against the installation of the plants, and to influence the Gualeguaychú citizen assembly to promote an area of ​​understanding between the parties. The directors of the company publicly acknowledged that they had given the guy only 50 thousand pesos to take charge of such steps, but denied that such conduct could be classified as a bribe.

But although absolutely all the members of the ruling establishment were as naive as they were unpolluted, there are some facts that cannot be denied: because it is undeniable that the current position of the government on this matter is absolutely functional to the interests of the United States. It is evident that a strong Mercosur conspires against the hegemonic plans of the empire. Especially with the coupling of Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela, which would form a powerful bloc not only economic but also political that, in the short and medium term, could become at least a great discomfort for the northern giant. That is why the United States attacks the FTAA and that is why, for the purposes of its strategy, it is functional for Mercosur to weaken, not to advance. In this context, the controversy over the pulp mills and the increasingly sour crack in relations between Argentina and Uruguay accumulates for US interests and goes against the interests of our nations. It is not by chance, then, that some government voices begin to speak in favor of an eventual bilateral free trade agreement with the United States. The old law is fulfilled; the big fish eats the boy.

PS: President Vázquez's brand-new announcement at the empire's own headquarters, about Uruguay's imminent departure from MERCOSUR, only confirms a sad suspicion: the old empire continues to rule, even though people have voted for change and socialism . Once again the facts call for not giving up in the fight for old dreams.

* Walter Falco
Montevideo, May 1, 2006

1 The Guayubira Group –which questions the installation of the plants– maintains that the ombudsman's report confirms their complaints regarding the insufficiency of the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) carried out by the companies and approved by the Ministry of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment (MVOTMA); regarding the lack of adequate controls by the government and regarding the lack of evaluation of the impacts on various economic sectors, particularly agriculture, fishing and tourism, as well as on populations, social sectors and potentially affected individuals. For more information see
2 According to data from the 2000 agricultural census, the number of permanent workers per thousand forested hectares is 4.49. Beef cattle farming generates 5.84 permanent jobs in the same area of ​​land, while sheep farming provides 9.18 jobs. And these, together with rice production (7.75), are the worst figures. At the opposite extreme are production for self-consumption (262 jobs / thousand hectares), poultry (211), viticulture (165), horticulture (133) and pig production (128), while in the middle the production of dairy cattle (22), machinery services (20) and cereal and industrial crops (10) are located.
3 In the departments of Tacuarembó and Rivera, in the north of the country, dozens of settlers who rented plots for various crops - in most cases under a family garden regime - were evicted from their lands by the owners to use them to plant eucalyptus or sell them to transnational forestry companies. In those places where up to 200 occupied people used to be concentrated, now it is enough with four laborers to monitor large areas of forested fields. A series of notes by journalist and social researcher Víctor Bachetta, published by the newspaper La República between February and May 2005, illustrates this process in greater detail and clarity.
4 The Uruguayan union of transporters, together with export sectors, recently announced that the country has already lost more than thirty million dollars as a result of this conflict. Until when will the Uruguayan government continue to maintain a position that leads our economy and the country to critical and ruinous situations?

Video: Visión 7: Conflicto UPM-Botnia: Uruguay cerró la frontera (July 2021).