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The opposition to the pasteras, Uruguayan version - Interview with María Selva Ortiz

The opposition to the pasteras, Uruguayan version - Interview with María Selva Ortiz


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The coordinator of the Association Redes-Amigos de la Tierra of Montevideo warns that the installation of the Botnia and Ence pulp mills will consolidate an economic model that is harmful to her country, dominated by the concentration and foreignization of the land. "All the productive units are being acquired by five forestry companies," he stresses.


"The installation of pulp mills in our country consolidates and expands a forestry model that is already proven to have serious economic, environmental, political and social impacts for Uruguay," says María Selva Ortiz, sociologist and coordinator of the environmental association Redes - Friends of the Earth Uruguay.

In an interview in Montevideo, Ortiz expressed his concern that the conflict with Argentina over the construction of a cellulose pulp factory in Fray Bentos "has been the axis of the real debate that Uruguayans must give ourselves as to what is happening today with the forestry model, with the concentration and foreignization of the land, with all the productive units that are being acquired by only five transnational forestry companies, among which are Botnia and ENCE ”.

Redes's studies on the consequences of forest monoculture began in the early 1990s, a few years after the democratic government of Julio María Sanguinetti enshrined a law, which is still in force, that provides tax benefits, subsidies and soft credits. to afforestation.

- Why did the first government of democratic restoration promote the forest industry in Uruguay?

- At first it was seen as an alternative for national producers, but transnational companies immediately arrived and concentrated land. Today any of these transnationals have a gross product greater than that of Uruguay and, nevertheless, they do not pay any taxes and receive soft credits. It is the only industrial or agricultural sector that receives this type of benefits. So the big beneficiaries have been these transnationals, because they are even exempt from the outsourcing of costs that they produce. The roads deteriorate much more, and that cost is paid by all citizens. Now also in Argentina a forestry law that is similar to ours is being vigorously promoted.

- What economic impacts are already registered from this model?

- The forest monoculture has not left anything to the country from the economic point of view, because it has provided much less labor than extensive cattle ranching, even. There are infinite complaints, in the Ministry of Labor, about semi-slave and child labor in forest plantations. The environmental impacts on water are already evident in many areas, such as Mercedes - a city located near Fray Bentos - where 160 producers have run out of water. In addition, there is a serious loss of sovereignty, because there are absolutely strategic basins for our country that are clearly being affected. There are studies that say that 70% of the flow of the Río Negro basin could be lost due to monoculture, and in that basin there are three of the four national dams. Today our country, like Argentina, is going through a very serious energy crisis. The installation of the plants will not do more than amplify these negative impacts that are already registered by the forest monoculture.

- What were the consequences on the world of work?

- In the agricultural census of 2000, an expulsion of producers and rural workers and trades from the countryside to the city is already recorded. Today there are settlements in peripheral belts of some cities in the interior, and they are workers expelled from the fields that the transnationals buy. When these companies acquire the land, they dismantle all the establishments that are within the plantations so that they cannot be reoccupied.

- What actions were developed in Uruguay to prevent the installation of pulp mills?


- We present the case of Ence and Botnia before the Court of the Peoples of Vienna. We also carry out actions against Ence in Spain, so that it is not granted credits by various agencies of the Spanish State for the installation of its plant in Uruguay. In addition, we managed to prevent ING Bank from granting credits. At the local level, we developed many actions, although in the last year all the activities we promoted had a low impact on public opinion, because the conflict with Argentina led the political parties and the media to converge in a bloc to defend investments and that anyone who opposed was accused of being unpatriotic. But there is strong opposition in Uruguay to the installation of plants and afforestation. We Uruguayans must debate what model of national development we want, especially since the population gave a great message of change in the last presidential elections of 2004, calling for the transformation of the economic and productive model that had been applied.

- Does the Broad Front's policy regarding afforestation correspond to that message of transformation?

- The great emblem of the Broad Front was "we want a productive country." Now, is afforestation within that productive country? Or are they companies that come to use strategic resources from Uruguayans, such as water and land, and the work of Uruguayans themselves to meet the consumption needs of other societies? This model also puts our food sovereignty at risk, because we are allocating our richest lands for agriculture and cattle raising to afforestation. If the international markets are going to be increasingly hungry for quality food, why produce one more commodity like cellulose pulp? That is a debate that we could not give.

- Does the monoculture model represent a setback with respect to the agro-export model of the late nineteenth century?

- The only thing these companies leave in our country are the benefits of the few Uruguayans who go to work in the factory. In the case of Botnia, only 260 direct jobs will be created for Uruguayans, because more than 2000 people who will work in the factory are foreigners and, obviously, they are the ones who will work in the most qualified positions. An average refrigerator in Uruguay, which pays all taxes, generates 1,040 direct jobs. A ton of organic meat is exported from 1200 dollars and can reach 7000, and the price of a ton of pulp is 400 dollars. So there is no argument to continue promoting this model, because also the ranchers are running out of land to develop their activity, and are on the ceiling of production.

- One of the axes that was not drawn up in the debate has been the limited power of the States to negotiate with the large transnational companies.

- In this conflict it has become clear that companies have greater power than states, as happened when Botnia did not stop the construction of the plant, despite the agreement between the Uruguayan and Argentine governments. In Uruguay, a discussion is currently taking place on a bill on reproductive health, which Tabaré has already announced that he will veto if it is enacted, and a joke is circulating that says that the feminist movement reached an agreement with Botnia to make it the own company who asks Tabaré to approve the law, because the only president who pays attention and listens to is this company. It would be very strategic (laughs).

- Has the Frente Amplio government promoted any action that limits the forestry model?

- Although it has done little, the Government has promoted a law so that corporations cannot buy land. Also, although it took a long time, Vázquez signed a decree that holds the transnationals responsible for the safety of the workers who work on the plantations, because until now they were not responsible, since the work was outsourced. Contractors generated black work and, if there was a work-related accident, they were not creditworthy to bear the costs. Another advance is that the afforestation subsidies were terminated, although tax exemptions remain.

- How do you analyze the relocation or construction of an aqueduct as possible solutions to unblock the conflict with Argentina?

- The relocation does not imply any improvement for Uruguay. Ence's relocation to Colonia, which was announced as a triumph in the Casa Rosada, for our country implies that the company increases its production from 500,000 to 1,000,000 tons. So that exit was much more damaging for Uruguay, because it will need twice as many chemicals and the plant will have twice the emission of effluents. So for us it is a great defeat. Relocation is to state that I do not want the garbage in the backyard of my house and I want them to remove it and put it anywhere, because they even move the afforestation area to the south, where the best lands are, which are more and more productive. Nor does the construction of an aqueduct represent a solution, because the effluents will be diverted towards the Negro River, but they will always end up on the Uruguay River. In any case, we understand that actions must be directed towards companies, not towards Uruguayan society. Nothing that Botnia and Ence produce - which is cellulose pulp and not paper - will be for the domestic market, but will be destined to meet the needs of other consumer societies. There are environmentalists who come from Europe to show solidarity and we ask them that they have to review what they are doing in their societies, because they increase their environmental demands but continue to maintain their standard of living, so the effects are coming here.

Posted in La Vaca


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