The Uruguayan government said on Monday there will be no public statements on the latest “situations” with Argentina, and Uruguay will keep to what was agreed at presidential level during the last (31 July) Mercosur extraordinary meeting in Brasilia.
President Mujica’s conciliatory policy towards Cristina Fernandez collapsing
“We will keep to what was agreed by President (Jose) Mujica with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez when they met in Brazil last week and that was to lower the level of discrepancies and avoid having the media expose exchanges relative to the situation”, said the Executive Deputy Secretary Diego Canepa following Monday’s cabinet meeting.
The Argentine government is demanding that Uruguayan officials who allegedly claimed there was an attempt by the Dutch/Argentine Riovia company in charge of dredging the River Plate access channels to bribe them for an extension of a contract, to make those very statements before an Argentine court.
Argentina said that until then it will freeze all negotiations related to the dredging of the Martin Garcia canal that is vital for Uruguay’s exports of grains, oilseeds and pulp from the port of Nueva Palmira, but which the government of President Cristina Fernandez has been deliberately delaying because of the powerful interests of Buenos Aires that does not approve of a successful competitive terminal just across the River Plate.
The Argentine freeze was implemented by simply not accepting one of the bidders for the deep dredging of the agreed Martin Garcia tender which would then enable vessels to leave Nueva Palmira fully loaded. The bidder questioned by Argentina is precisely Riovía, allegedly involved in the bribe attempt and which for years has been doing the dredging of the River Plate canals.
The bribe attempt was informed by the Uruguayan officials to a special committee of the Uruguayan parliament and the bidding process for the deep dredging Martin Garcia canal was also questioned by Uruguay’s National Auditing Office, particularly the terms for the temporary contract extension for Riovia to keep working until the results of the tender.
End of the line: Foreign Minister Hector Timerman found the perfect excuse to further delay a long exhausting conciliatory effort from President Mujica to have Argentina accept the deep dredging of the Martin Garcia canal, and stated that he expected the bribe allegations to be presented before the Argentine justice.
The Uruguayan government all along tried to downplay the incident with the sole purpose of getting ahead with the dredging. At the time the Uruguayan officials involved also tried to calm the waters arguing the ‘bribe attempt claims’ were merely ‘here-says’.
But Timerman pointed his guns to Ambassador Francisco Bustillo who together with Argentine ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritán are responsible for the River Plate Administrative Commission, CARP which manages all issues relative to the world’s widest estuary, including the maintenance and dredging of the access canals.
Bustillo who was directly involved in the alleged bribe attempt claim said in a press interview that who introduced him to the RIovía representative was none less than his counterpart Garcia Moritán. Riovia all along has argued that it was more practical to have an extension of their contract that gets involved in a costly, complicated tender process.
But Bustillo before joining CARP was ambassador in Buenos Aires and during his time there was a scandal involving the import of luxury cars free of tax for diplomats which where then sold in the Argentine market. In the case of Ambassador Bustillo, according to Argentine claims in 2007 he imported two Porsche, valued at 98.000 dollars each and two BMW M3 and X5.
Now Timerman has resurfaced the case and is demanding Uruguay exempts Bustillo of his diplomatic immunity so he can face charges of smuggling in Argentina.
And last but not least Argentina has now resurrected claims dating back to September 2011 arguing that the Uruguayan UPM-Botnia pulp mill annual production “is well above the agreed million tons” to ensure protection of the environment.
The pulp mill controversy, built on the shared River Uruguay, soured Uruguay/Argentina relations during almost six years and was finally de-activated when President Mujica was elected who adopted an entirely conciliatory attitude towards President Cristina Fernandez and following a ruling from the International Court of Justice in The Hague which was mostly favourable to Uruguay.
Meanwhile in Montevideo Ambassador Bustillo has requested authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to press charges against Minister Timerman before a Uruguayan court for “political persecution” and Foreign Minister Luis Almagro said he would take to court all details referred to the Martin Canal bidding process.
However Uruguayan high ranking and former diplomats are recommending that ambassador Bustillo be removed from CARP and the canal negotiations, since he is “too irritating” for the Argentines, one of the few diplomatic cards left to overcome the escalating situation.
Members of the opposition have told President Mujica to forget his “conciliatory policy” towards Cristina Fernandez and have Uruguay unilaterally organize the dredging of the Martin Garcia canal for which he will have complete support from the entire Uruguayan political arch.