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Cellulose industry in Gualeguaychu, Uruguay and Argentina


The Government of Uruguay approved in 2006 the building of two pulp mills in the city of Fray Bentos, along a bank of the Uruguay River. The first was to be managed by the Finnish company Metsa Botnia, while the Spanish ENCE had planned to build a second plant near the Finnish one but later announced it was studying plans to set up a site in Conchillas, the south-west region of Colonia, Uruguay. The activities started in 2007. The two mills were expected to produce up to 2 million tons of cellulose pulp per year, threatening the surrounding area with becoming one of the most polluted territories in Uruguay. On the Argentine bank of the river is the town of Gualeguaychu, crossed by the Gualeguaychu River, a tributary of the Uruguay River, and which would suffer the direct consequences of any pollution provoked by the two pulp mills’ activities. The construction of the pulp mills was strongly opposed by the Uruguayan and Argentinean people. The bridge between Argentina and Uruguay at Gualeguaychu was closed down several years by the citizens movement on the Argentine side which is articulated by the Citizens Environmentalist Assembly of Gualeguaych. The collective was founded in April 2005 and its mobilization is still ongoing.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Cellulose industry in Gualeguaychu, Uruguay and Argentina
State or province:Entre Rios
Location of conflict:Gualeguaychu
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Cellulose
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The plants are expected to produce up to 2 million tons of cellulose pulp per year.

Level of Investment:1800000000
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:2002
Company names or state enterprises:Ence from Spain
Botnia from Finland
Relevant government actors:Government of Argentina, Government of Uruguay, ICJ - The Netherlands, DINAMA - Uruguay, MVOTMA - Uruguay, Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development - Argentina
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Citizens Environmentalist Assembly of Gualeguaych (Asamblea Ciudadana Ambiental Gualeguaychú )
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
The bridge between Argentina and Uruguay at Gualeguaychu was closed down several years by the citizens movement on the Argentinean side.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:The stop of the activity and a compensation for the damages caused.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Argentinian Government presented a lawsuit to the International Court of Justice, but the sentence in 2010 was that the paper mill has to respect all the environmental regulations and is allowed to continue its activity.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

The 1975 Treaty between Argentina and Uruguay.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Tree plantations: Impacts and struggles. World Rainforest Movement. 1999

Maquillaje verde. Anlisis crtico de la certificacin de monocultivos de rboles en Uruguay por el FSC. Carrere, Ricardo. World Rainforest Movement. 2006

Plantations campaign. Pulpwood plantations: a growing problem. World Rainforest Movement. 1999

Pulp mills. From monocultures to industrial pollution. World Rainforest Movement. 2005.

Plantations are not forests. World Rainforest Movement. 2003

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Asamblea Ciudadana Ambiental Gualeguaychú website
[click to view]

Marcha del 26 de Abril 2015, Asamblea Ciudadana Ambiental Gualeguaychú
[click to view]

La Argentina recurrirá a la Corte de La Haya por el conflicto de la pastera que opera en el río Uruguay, Telam, 13/06/2014
[click to view]

Parque de la paz para Argentina y Uruguay, Perasso, V., 21/05/2009, BBC Mundo
[click to view]

Conflicto entre Argentina y Uruguay por la papelera UPM vuelve a La Haya , Gubin, A., LaGranEpoca, 14/06/2014
[click to view]

Se fue ENCE, pero sigue en pie el proyecto, Fernandez, N., 19/05/2009
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update17/04/2018
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