“Se pudrió todo”.
In case you were wondering, that’s Spanish for “it’s all gone to hell.” Ironically, it’s also the non-diplomatic term that Uruguay’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luis Almagro, used last Friday when he was asked how things were going between Uruguay and Argentina since the neighboring nation allowed the UPM pulp mill to increase its annual production, causing an uproar in the Fernández de Kirchner administration.
“It’s all gone to hell.”
Who’s shocked? Not me.
After a week in which Argentina’s Cabinet has become the poster boy for unpredictability (coupled with a humongous identity crisis) we have proven once more that when it comes to domestic and regional issues, the backlash is exactly the same.
Historically, Argentina has acted like the smarty-pants, know-it-all older brother of Uruguay, condescendingly treating them like the little brother that’s not allowed to go out on weekends unless they tag along with you. Uruguay has been trying to break away from this and achieve some independence, but Argentina has clearly shown that we aren’t ready neither to treat them like adults nor grow up ourselves.
So after Uruguay’s decision to in favor of UPM, things officially got nasty between the two countries.
- “BUT URUGUAY STARTED IT!”
In a traditional sibling rivalry that’s been happening since someone wondered “Who is the ultimate mate fan?” Argentina and Uruguay have come up with ways to make their relationship as tense and awkward as it can be.
The 2006 Uruguay River pulp mill dispute became a massive family feud between the two countries. In the late 90’s, Uruguay decided that it would allow pulp mills to locate on the shores of the Uruguay River. When the UPM pulp mill (formerly known as Botnia) was ready to begin production, Argentines accused Uruguay of polluting the environment and the conflict escalated so much that it landed on the International Court of Justice, and caused some pretty iconic demonstrations.
Last year, Argentina’s reaction to President Mujica’s decision has been pretty much like the one you would expect from a bitter, vengeful spinster who just found out her younger sister is getting married first — to some rich Finnish guy (UPM is Finnish.)
Believe me, the fact that you weren’t able to fly to Punta this year because you couldn’t afford paying the tax on foreign currency purchases is not a huge concern for the Uruguayans right now. For some time now, Argentina has increasingly come up with strong commercial regulations that have restricted the import of goods (sound familiar?) from Uruguay and has banned cargo transshipment of goods in Uruguayan ports, severely affecting its foreign trade.
Considering that Uruguay is not only a country that shares historical and cultural ties with Argentina but it is also a member of Mercosur, a regional union created to improve trade between member states, these actions can hardly be seen as anything but a flat-out reprisal on Argentina’s part to Mujica’s decision to favor UPM.
“Se pudrió todo”, indeed.
- “I WANT YOU TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY, I MEAN IT!”
Recently, Argentina and Uruguay have progressively been running under completely different logics. Argentina has grown blatantly protectionist and in the words of president José Mujica, Uruguay’s perspective is pretty easy to understand: “We are a small country and we have to be strictly open. To even consider Uruguay as a self-sufficient country borders on insanity.”
Admittedly, Uruguay can’t really afford to reject such a juicy investment like the one that the pulp mills are dangling in front of them, although there is still huge controversy over their environmental impact. And while Uruguay’s trade and tourism may always be extremely linked to Argentina’s fluctuating economy, Argentina might end up being the one left behind or, at the very least, losing a faithful and stable commercial partner: In 2013, Brazil was the main buyer of Uruguayan products, China consolidated its position as the second destination of Uruguayan goods and Argentina just stood at fourth place with purchases worth US$474 million, 5.4% less than in 2012. Even more so, Uruguay is currently exporting more beef than Argentina, and during the most recent heat wave, when Buenos Aires underwent the worst December in history, Uruguay sold energy to Argentina to mitigate the foul mood caused by the rolling blackouts.
You get my point?
At this point, there is nothing left to do but to wait for both presidents to meet face to face and amicably try to patch things up. We can only hope they reach a solution that doesn’t hurt our (political) feelings anymore. The perfect opportunity for that could come as early as tomorrow in Havana, Cuba, where the CELAC summit is taking place and both presidents are expected to run into each other.
So far, foreign ministers Héctor Timerman and Luis Almagro, whose relationship is kind of on the rocks, have not been able to set up a meeting between both heads of state. But the opportunity could still come.
Now we must see if this ends up being just another awkward family Christmas reunion or if the multilateral cooperation spirit rubs on them and things start moving forward.
For now, I’m just counting on a drunken hug and some awkward stares the next day.