Argentina and Uruguay share the trans-boundary waters of the Río Uruguay and La Plata Rivers. The Guarani Aquifer, an im- portant resource for groundwater, is also shared between these countries. Both countries are historically and geographically linked, sharing common cultures and roots. Over the past few decades, the relationship between Uruguay and Argentina has been relatively harmonious and cooperative. During the last twenty-five years the Government of Uruguay has conducted a policy of state directed wood exploitation as one of the cornerstones of its economy, and approximately 800.000 hectares of Eucalyptus has been planted. At present, the cycle of tree planting has been completed and the process is now at the stage of installing paper mills for the production of paper paste for exportation.
The Uruguayan governments decision to allow the instal- lation of two paper mills (one from Botnia, Finland and the second, Ence, from Spain), and an investment of 1 billion USD in the area of Fray Bentos near the city of Gualeguaychú (Argentina), has created significant worry amongst the Argentine population, who are concerned about the possibility of water and air pollution that could threaten human health and destroy the environment. Subsequently, the present situation is heavily conflicted.
The people from Gualeguaychú continue to obstruct the bridges over the Río Uruguay, and other roads in the Mercosur road sys- tem have been cut – creating trade and commerce problems for Uruguay. There have also been negative impacts on tourism between the two countries due to these roadway difficulties. In the first place, Green Cross International, with its partners in Argentina and Uruguay, has been addressing this conflicted situation by conducting a social and environmental assessment study, independent from both governments and from the various stakeholders involved, in order to clarify the positive and nega- tive impacts of the Paper Mills Implantation Project. The study’s objective was to help the communities understand the magnitude and composition of any consequences these paper mills could generate, while educating them on how to avoid and decrease their own exposure to these risks. The project has just been expanded into a second phase: establishing a process of dialogue and information exchange within a multi-stakeholder approach, involving both sides of the border in a constructive dialogue to find sustainable and peaceful solutions to the conflict.