Argentina: thousands protest Uruguay pulp mill

Tens of thousands of people marched on April 29 from Gualeguaychu, in the Argentine province of Entre Rios, to the international bridge that crosses the Uruguay river to protest a pulp plant under construction in Fray Bentos, on the Uruguayan side of the border. Organizers said 130,000 people took part in the march; Argentine border police put the number at 80,000. The Argentine and Urugayan governments are negotiating over the conflict generated by the plant, which is being built by the Finnish multinational corporation Botnia. The Environmental Assembly of Gualeguaychu has maintained a protest blockade on the border post since last Nov. 20. Environmental assemblies from two other border cities, Colon and Concordia, also took part in the march; on April 28 protesters blockaded the border crossings in all three cities. (EFE, April 29; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, April 29 from EFE)

The Botnia pulp mill is in its final stage of construction. On April 3, a Chilean contract laborer doing soldering work at the pulp mill site died after a two-meter-long steel beam fell on his head from a height of 18 meters. The accident led the workers to call an immediate work stoppage; they did not return to work until the following Monday, April 9. (The work stoppage also coincided with Easter week, when most workers take vacations.) The worker who died, Rodrigo Hernan Rivero, had joined the construction crew at the Botnia plant on Jan. 14. He was one of 4,100 workers at the plant, many of them hired by subcontractors. Rivero worked for the Chilean firm Tecsa. Pedro Porley, a representative of the Only Construction Union of Uruguay (SUNCA), said the situation at the plant would be raised in a meeting planned with President Tabare Vazquez for April 16.

On June 29, 2006, two workers were hospitalized after two cranes collapsed; SUNCA responded with a 10-day strike, and the Labor Ministry inspected the site and ordered a halt to the use of 10 cranes that didn’t meet safety requirements. On Jan. 25, another worker was hospitalized in a coma after falling from a height of 10 meters and suffering a head injury and fractured pelvis. The same day, a Croatian worker was injured in another accident; the union struck for three days and asked the Labor Ministry to suspend work at the site. The Labor Ministry fined the company for “bad organization” of safety measures at the site. Two more workers were injured in accidents on Feb. 1 and Feb. 7. (Resumen Latinoamericano, April 5; Telam, April 10)

On April 26, nine workers from the Botnia project—two Uruguayans, three Argentines and four Paraguayans—were charged with stealing cables from the site valued at $25,000. (AFP, April 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 29

See our last posts on Argentina, Uruguay and the anti-Botnia struggle.