Friday, January 26, 2007

Court Rules on Argentina-Uruguay Blockades

Sources: Financial Times, UN Rejects Uruguay Plea to Stop Roadblocks; Associated Press, Argentines Cheer Ruling on Blockades; International Herald Tribune, World Court Denies Uruguay’s Request to Order End of Argentina’s Blockade; Inter Press Service News Service, Roadblocks Ruling Heats up Pulp Mill Dispute & Christmas at the Roadblock.

On January 23, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest judicial entity of the United Nations, rejected Uruguay’s request to force Argentina to remove blockades on bridges linking the two countries. Argentine protesters erected the roadblocks intermittently last year (permanent ones were established in November) because of Uruguay’s decision to allow a Finnish corporation to build a $1.2 billion pulp mill on the river separating the two countries. The protestors fear that the mill will hurt their tourism industry and damage the environment, particularly the citrus and soy fields in the surrounding area.

Additionally, the Argentine government has refused to stop the protestors despite Uruguay’s complaint that the blockades are causing serious economic harm. Uruguay claims that the roadblocks have caused over $200 million in damage to the economy. Moreover, the country claims that the blockades are a violation of the Mercosur free trade agreement, which guarantees the free movement of people and goods through member countries. In its ruling, however, the ICJ ruled that it did not believe that the blockades “risk prejudicing [Uruguay’s rights] irreparably.”

This is not the first legal battle between the two countries over the pulp mill. In May 2006, Argentina complained to the ICJ that the mill project is a violation of an international agreement between the two countries. That treaty requires prior consultation and mutual agreement between the two countries in order to go forward with development projects affecting the river. Despite Argentina’s complaint, the Court has thus far allowed the construction to move forward. That decision was extremely important to Uruguay, a country that expects to gain at least six hundred jobs from the project and see a fifteen percent increase in its exports. The pulp mill would be the biggest foreign investment in the country’s history and is to be funded partially by the World Bank.


(1) To what extent are the protestors' actions exacerbating the conflict between the two countries? What are some positive aspects of the blockades? For example, could Uruguay be using them as an excuse to not negotiate with Argentina over the legality of the mill?

(2) What are some alternative methods that the two countries could use to resolve their conflict? Is the impact of the project on the development of either nation grave enough to warrant additional action? Since much of the funding comes from the World Bank, what role could that organization play in the resolution of the conflict?

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