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New kind of environmental conflicts

New kind of environmental conflicts

By Víctor L. Bacchetta

The April 30, 2006 march on the Libertador San Martín bridge over the Uruguay River, which gathered more than 80,000 people against the Ence and Botnia factories in Fray Bentos, is the largest action carried out to date in the region by a citizen movement as a result of an environmental conflict.

The march of April 30, 2006 on the Libertador San Martín bridge over the Uruguay River, which gathered more than 80,000 people against the Ence and Botnia factories in Fray Bentos, is, beyond the particularities of the case, the action of the greatest magnitude carried out to date in the region by a citizen movement as a result of an environmental conflict

It was a peaceful demonstration of the population, the kind that the family attends, from babies to grandmothers and grandparents, without party, governmental or religious identification, only with the slogans "for life and against the pulp mills." At the call of the citizens of Gualeguaychú, they came from all the nearby towns and also from other neighboring provinces and countries, from Chile and Brazil, in addition to Uruguay.

New wave of investments


This is not an isolated phenomenon. Latin America has been registering a growing number of environmental conflicts in which affected local groups or communities have decided to take action. In general, this occurs when the situation is already critical (pollution, environmental depredation, social degradation, etc.) and shows that the established political and institutional bodies do not take charge of the problem.

To the traditional or historical problems are added others as a result of a new wave of large investments interested in exploiting the natural wealth of the region. The mining, oil and gas "boom", the expansion of agribusiness, pine and eucalyptus plantations, and the consequent installation of the pulp industry are all large-scale projects with strong environmental and social impacts. .

These ventures are facing growing resistance from the populations, with the peculiarity that it is developed in a territorial space and through community movements, citizen assemblies or neighborhood associations in an area or town. The only close antecedent may be the indigenous peoples who, by preserving their ethnic and cultural identity associated with the land, have always acted collectively and territorially.

The emergence of this new social actor, or old one but with a new attitude, questions the political institutions and the traditional actors of society, which do not include it or are prepared to deal with it. The cases of Tambogrande in Peru, Esquel in Argentina, Valdivia and the Mapuche peoples in Chile or the Landless in Brazil, show the different forms of decision and action taken by these actors to be recognized.

Government failure

The case of the pulp mills on the coast of the Uruguay River is another example of the above. Long before becoming a serious binational conflict, Uruguayan environmental, social and political organizations spoke out against the projects, demanded a national debate and even followed the evaluation process step by step.
formal. Despite the change of government, the dialogue and debate became increasingly closed.

The Entre Ríos citizen movement began to be concerned in 2003, when Ence's first project was announced, and since then it has demanded participation in decisions. The provincial and national governments followed the problem from afar and reacted only after the march led by 40,000 Uruguayans and Argentines in the "Embrace the Bridge" on April 30, 2005 (see interview with Moussoud).

A binational technical commission was installed, but the governments did not reach an agreement. In the absence of definitions, the Entre Ríos assembly members began the roadblocks. In parallel, advisers from the World Bank, in particular the Ombudsman, confirmed deficiencies already mentioned in the projects. The governments were unable to set up a joint evaluation mechanism and an attempt at presidential dialogue ultimately failed.

In this framework of government ineffectiveness, either due to incapacity or lack of political will on both sides, Argentine social mobilization grew and hardened. On the Uruguayan side, the exacerbation of the binational conflict, largely encouraged from above, managed to placate and divert the internal discussion. But you can't eliminate it, and ultimately you're just putting off a problem that can flare up later and harder.

A bumpy road ahead

The massive march on the Libertador San Martín bridge last Sunday and the uprising one day after the blockade of Route 136 mark the culmination of a stage in the struggle of Entrepreneurs against the pulp mills, in which several points can be scored. your favor. But another one as uncertain and complex as the previous one begins, in which they must challenge their creativity to the maximum.


Now the two governments direct all their batteries towards the Court of The Hague. It is no stranger to this that, in the middle of the current tour, Tabaré Vázquez went on to speak insistently of the "unanimity" (sic) of Uruguayans on this issue, and that Néstor Kirchner moved in the same direction, calling for an act in Gualeguaychú with the assistance of the cabinet, the governors of the provinces in full and dozens of mayors.

Beyond its legal reasons, each government will try to show that there are two peoples in conflict and not two governments with internal opposition. For Argentina this would require putting "the house in order", that is, defining and beginning to implement a coherent environmental policy for the entire country. It is no less difficult for Uruguay, if the government intends to consolidate that "unanimity" at the same time that it encourages forestry and cellulose in the country.

Ultimately, both governments face potential socio-environmental conflicts that may be new Gualeguaychú from one moment to the next. They know it and it is difficult for them, in the midst of their contradictions, to cope and manage what is happening. For the populations, the road is also quite bumpy: with no space for fairy tales or savior leaders, they will have to hold on to their own reins.

With Osvaldo Moussoud

Now it's against the first world

The entrerrianos assembly members are preparing an offensive against the First World countries, Osvaldo Moussoud, coordinator of the Environmental Citizen Assembly and municipal councilor of the city of Gualeguaychú, explained to Brecha in full march.
- Since the demonstration a year ago, what is your assessment of this process?
- Last year's demonstration was the launch of our movement to make it known, because we have been working since 2003. To date, we have had many victories, nationally and internationally.
- What would those victories be?
- Fundamentally, they did not listen to us in Argentina.
Our Foreign Ministry was never convinced until April 30, 2005 that it just began to take us into account.
Today that reality has changed and proof of this is the coming of President Kirchner here with all the governors. Now there is significant support, but only after April 30 did everything change. Another fact that contributed a lot was the roadblocks. We didn't want it, but it was also the result of inaction by the Argentine government and the Uruguayan government never listening to us. The cuts have a lot to do with the press and the recognition of the assembly. The presentation before The Hague has been claimed by us for three years.

If it had been carried out at the time, surely today we would not be in this unfortunate situation with the Uruguayan people. None of the governments - in Uruguay, both the previous and the current one - knew how to take this as it should. And we have reached this point, where it is going to cost Argentines and Uruguayans a lot to regain our friendship, due to an inaction, a stubbornness of both governments.
-… and at the international level?
- Well, the arrival of the Ombudsman and other World Bank officials, the impact these events have had on financing and companies. The repercussion that they have now also in Finland, as a result of the Foreign Trade Minister of this country decided not to come to Argentina.
- How did you interpret this decision?
- In all this fight, we do not see Uruguay as our rival. For us this is a matter of the First World countries that come to leave their garbage in the Third. It doesn't matter in Argentina, in Chile and that's how disasters are.
So we have to make those countries see that they are the ones who have come to interfere to take our resources. That is why we will make "escraches" to the Finns when they come, to the Spanish when they come and to all those who have to do with these governments.

- The conclusion of this process is quite uncertain. The Hague process is difficult, long ... What prospects do you see for the future?

- It should be clear that you are going to The Hague because it is the natural court defined by the Uruguay River Treaty.
We know it is a long road, but it is the only one we have. Another path would not be that of reason or justice, by which we want to defend these issues. That we are going to win or lose is another story.

You don't go to court because you are going to win or lose, you go because you think you are right and you believe that your approach is fair.
- In terms of future actions, have you defined any guidelines?
- The next thing to come is to take action on the governments that are supporting these companies economically and politically, to make them see that we are not willing to pay for their sumptuousness with our resources. The other thing we have
It is very clear that we are not against the development of Uruguay, under any point of view. If Uruguay wants to have these plants, it should put them within its territory, not in a bordering river.
- From an environmental point of view, would it be good if there are plants of this type within Uruguay, with the right it has, or Argentina, with the same right?
- We are not an environmental movement. We are a citizen movement gathered so that these plants are not put in that place. It would be very hypocritical if we said "we don't want them here, put them there." But if Uruguay thinks, as has been said, that we do not want it to develop, that is not our purpose, by no means.


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