Harbour handling Botnia pulp deliveries in Uruguay opened on Wednesday
Exceptional security measures surrounded the official opening of the ONTUR harbour in Nueva Palmira, Uruguay, on Wednesday. The port facility has been expanded to facilitate deliveries from the Uruguayan pulp mill of Metsä Botnia.
The construction of the plant in Fray Bentos on the banks of the Uruguay river is proceeding on schedule, and will be ready for opening in September. The mill has cost around EUR 900 million and will produce approximately a million tons of pulp per year.
The opening ceremony was conducted by the Uruguayan president Tabaré Vázquez, while Metsä Botnia was represented by its local executives, and the representative of the state of Finland was the Secretary of the Finnish Legation in Buenos Aires.
No distinguished guests flew in from Finland, in spite of the fact that the Botnia mill project is Finland's single largest industrial investment abroad, as well as being the most contentious.
At the same time, the dispute between Argentina and Uruguay concerning the construction of the mill itself is intensifying.
Despite Botnia’s assurances to the contrary and regardless of environmental impact reports, the Argentine opponents of the plant say that they are convinced that the mill and its plantation forests will cause damage to the environment.
The protesters first threatened to disturb the inauguration, while more severe threats are to be focused on the start-up of the mill itself. However, Botnia has not revealed the exact date when the plant will go into service.
A permit for the start-up is required from the government of Uruguay, which is monitoring the environmental impact of the mill.
At the time of the ceremony on Wednesday, some dozens of boats protesting the inauguration of the harbour terminal were gathered on the Argentine side of the Uruguay River for the purpose of causing a disturbance by making loud noises, according to the Argentinian media. However, the Uruguayan navy was prepared to prevent the Argentinian protesters from crossing over to the Uruguay side of the waterway border.
Moreover, Uruguay’s own environmentalists and leftist radicals were also expected to arrange protests in the Nueva Palmira area. Their activities against Botnia have not, however, been as prominent or as impassioned as those of their Argentinian counterparts.
The Foreign Ministry of Argentina reacted to the opening of the port by issuing a protest saying that the inauguration will exacerbate the dispute and will impair the efforts of King Juan Carlos of Spain to act as a mediator in the conflict, which has strained relations between the two neighbours.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Solution to paper factory dispute between Argentina and Uruguay more remote than ever (13.3.2007)
Pulp mill dispute between Argentina and Uruguay intensifies (12.4.2006)
Botnia pulp factory centre of dispute between Argentina and Uruguay (10.1.2006)
Botnia press release (29.8.2007): ONTUR harbour handling Botnia pulp deliveries inaugurated today in Uruguay