Former Uruguayan president, Tabaré Vázquez, made unsettling comments yesterday, related to the country’s longtime disagreement with Argentina over its construction of pulp mills next to the Uruguay River. The issue first came up during a talk with students from a school in Montevideo, Uruguay. During the discussion, Vázquez suggested that at the height of the dispute, Uruguay was ready to go to war with Argentina and that he had spoken with then President Bush about the United States lending their support.
The remarks center around the conflict that began between the two countries in 2006. Argentina claimed that building the pulp mill was a breach of the Uruguayan River Statute and that mill operations would contaminate the Uruguayan river and would pose environmental hazards. Tensions escalated and residents of the Entre Rios Province in Argentina blocked off the General San Martín Bridge the crosses the river, consequently hampering construction on the mill and hurting diplomatic, economic, and public relations between the two countries.
In 2010, the International Court of Justice ruled that Uruguay was guilty of not having informed Argentina of its construction plans, but that the mill was not contaminating the river, thus operations could continue. Subsequently, Argentina President Christina Fernández de Kirchner and Uruguayan President José Mujica signed an agreement establishing joint cooperation of activities on the river, thereby resolving the matter.
“The protestors were threatening to come to the pulp mill with dynamite,” said Vásquez. He then made reference to hugs that then Argentine President Nestor Kirchner gave to those whose were blocking the bridge.
The recent comments from Vázquez were considered by many to be somewhat surprising. President Mujica, who is presently on an official visit to Sweden, did not respond to the remarks. His wife, Lucía Topolansky, who is a senator, however, said that the idea of going to war with Argentina is “absurd”. In a television appearance, the senator added, “I hope this does not complicate our relationship with Argentina or hurt diplomatic relations.”
Uruguayan Secretary to the President, Alberto Breccia also responded by saying that the comments made by Vázquez had been taken out of context. “There are many forces that can operate to damage the relationship between Argentina and Uruguay, but beyond that, our relationship continues to be excellent and we will not separate. We are brothers born from the same womb”.