Argentina and Uruguay both professed neighborly affection, if not brotherly love, after a UN court delivered a long-awaited ruling that rejects Argentina’s claim that an Uruguayan pulp mill pollutes their shared river.
Both sides said Tuesday’s decision by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands gave them what they need to resolve their differences, with Argentina taking heart from a part of the ruling that said Uruguay did not properly inform it about the project.
The countries vowed to work through a binational commission to protect the Rio Uruguay.
A key hurdle remains, however, with no indication of how Argentine President Cristina Fernandez will overcome it: Argentine activists are still blocking the main bridge across the river and are refusing to give up their fight.
The verdict cannot be appealed, but the activists said they won’t accept it — raising the possibility of a violent confrontation if Argentine police have to intervene.
For more than three years, the activists have blocked traffic between Guayleguachu, Argentina, and Fray Bentos, Uruguay, where the US$1.2 billion Botnia paper mill is located. At times they had the open support of Fernandez’s predecessor and husband, Nestor Kirchner, who took the fight to the UN court demanding the factory be torn down.
The court said it found no conclusive evidence that the mill is pumping dangerous pollution into the river.
In a portion of the ruling welcomed by Argentina, the court said both countries “have a legal obligation” to work closely together in honoring their treaty requiring shared decision-making for river projects.
While saying Uruguay should have involved the river commission to inform Argentina of plans to build two pulp mills before authorizing construction, as called for in their 1975 treaty regulating the river’s use, the court rejected Argentina’s demands for more than a reprimand of Uruguay.
“Ordering the dismantling of the mill would not, in the view of the court, constitute an appropriate remedy,” the court’s vice president, Peter Tomka, said.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica made no immediate comment, but Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Luis Almagro called the verdict a reaffirmation of international law.
Fernandez took a conciliatory stance, saying: “Surely both of our countries are going to pursue from now on a strong monitoring effort, a strong control.”
“We have with Uruguay a common history, we have more than 300,000 Uruguayans living in Argentina, we have a deep feeling for Uruguay and I in particular have a very special affection for its president, Pepe, for Lucia his wife and surely this will enable us to build mechanisms of control,” she said.