by Staff Writers
Buenos Aires (UPI) Oct 14, 2011
An escalating dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over a Uruguayan pulp mill threatened to get out of hand and raised fears of an armed conflict, former Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said in comments reported in the media.
The remarks drew strong reactions from both sides, as officials and prominent public personalities sought to minimize the potential impact of the remarks amid an uneasy Argentine-Uruguayan consultative process over tree pulping activities near shared waters of the Uruguay River.
Argentina took the dispute to the International Court in The Hague but had its case thrown out. Since the reconciliation accord of 2010, Uruguay has announced plans to build more pulp mills, reviving environmentalist protests in Argentina. The World Court ruling rejected Argentine suggestions the pulp waste -- mostly from eucalyptus trees -- posed a threat to the river waters.
Vazquez said the confrontation with Argentina got so bad he found himself considering all options, including an armed conflict.
Uruguay first lady Lucia Topolansky, wife of President Jose Mujica, said the former president's "war hypothesis" was "absurd" and compared it to a childish anecdote.
Relations between the two countries over the pulping operations remain tense, however.
Topolansky said the comments by Vazquez had surprised her and she hoped they wouldn't have any "diplomatic repercussions."
She said, "I hope this doesn't complicate our relationship with Argentina. I hope the signals that our government has given the Argentine government are strong enough," she said, in a reference to Mujica's initiative to defuse the crisis.
"The way to solve the conflict with Argentina is doing what President Mujica did, which is opening up the bridges and talking," Topolansky said. There was no immediate comment from Mujica, who is on a 10-day European tour.
Relations between Mujica and Vazquez have also raised eyebrows after the former president announced plans to run for president again in 2014. He relinquished office last year after former guerrilla Mujica was swept into power by a 52 percent majority in the second round of the 2009 presidential election.
His reconciliatory stance disarmed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who had mounted a seven-year campaign against the pulp mills, encouraging activists and protesters who blocked international bridges linking the two countries over the Uruguay River. After the reconciliation, the protests got out of control, prompting Fernandez to threaten the pickets with court action to clear the bridges.
Analysts said the diplomatic standoff over the pulp mills, though muted in recent months, persists and may boil over again.
Vazquez and other Uruguay officials have repeatedly blamed Argentine leaders for escalating the conflict.
As recrimination mounted, Vazquez said, he contacted former U.S. President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for help and support.
"We had a very serious conflict with Argentina and a president has the obligation of analyzing all possible scenarios given a specific problem," Vazquez told a group of students at a political meeting and later in comments to the media.
While considering the situation and weighing all the options, Vazquez said he went through "all those possible scenarios, from a situation where nothing happens to that conflict hypothesis of an armed conflict."
Vazquez said he met with the three armed forces commanders to consider the situation since the Argentine armed forces were involved in military exercises across the river in an area close to the pulp mill where they had not been involved in such mobilization earlier.
Former Argentine officials denied a confrontation was provoked by Buenos Aires. Alberto Fernandez, Argentine cabinet chief from 2003 to 2008, said, "We never analyzed, not even remotely, the possibility of an armed conflict."
Former Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister Rafael Bielsa said, "With his statements Vazquez is showing he is a parochial, domestic, suburban person completely ignorant of international law and international policies."
The dispute lasted seven years and ended in Argentina being humbled by the World Court judgment, but a joint monitoring of the pulp mill plant and the river waters still shows the potential for a renewed flare-up as Uruguay goes ahead with the construction of more mills.
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