Argentina: ‘As Foreigners in Our Own Land’

La Tribuna de Rosas Río de la Plata drainage basin

For three decades now, the Argentine nation-people have not been the owners of the resources of our inland rivers, nor of the profits obtained from our country’s river and overseas trade. On the contrary, we Argentines live as foreigners in our own lands, while the transnational trade corporations are masters of our waters and obey the direct orders of the global power, enjoying the connivance of successive national and local governments for the realization of the project of plundering our natural resources and its consequent result: the crystallization of the semi-colonial status of the Argentine Republic.

This is an extremely serious situation that directly threatens national sovereignty, but also the immeasurable wealth of our waters and the environmental balance of the different biomes that the basin of the great rivers contributes to form. An expeditious and definitive resolution of the situation of Argentine waters that responds to the legitimate sovereign right of the Argentine people over river and maritime waters and also guarantees the use of technologies that respect harmony with the environment makes the abysmal difference between sealing a destiny of submission or implementing a model of sustainable development over time.

From the English Invasions (1806/1807) to the deed of Obligado (1845), not to forget the occupation of our Falkland Islands (1833), the history of our country abounds in examples of how desirable our territory and its riches have always been to the imperial powers. Especially our water resources, both for their optimal conditions for the exploitation of fish and for the strategic position of the country from the geopolitical point of view, since it is a region with a very long coastline that culminates at its end with the union of two oceans. But also because through the Paraná basin it is possible to have direct communication with the heart of the continent, from Argentina to Brazil and Paraguay, passing through Uruguay.

The comparative advantages that the Paraná basin implies for the transport system are most seductive for the powers interested in satisfying their commercial prerogatives and the most complete demonstration of these interests is the inexhaustible will of appropriation that these powers have manifested throughout the two centuries of our history, since it is known that power never renounces to a substantial profit, even if it implies years of effort.

At present, in fact, a consortium of multinational foreign trade companies with predominantly Belgian capital has at its disposal the total control of river traffic in the Paraná River basin. However, the contract with Hidrovía Sociedad Anónima, established by decree in 1995 during the government of Carlos Saúl Menem, expires on Friday, April 30.

In this context, Argentina will have for the first time in twenty-six years the opportunity to take control of the inland rivers for the exploitation of fishing and cargo transportation tasks that account for three quarters of its overseas trade, mostly composed of grains and oilseeds, particularly soybeans produced in the country and mainly destined for export to China.

If the Argentine government were to recover the rivers for the country, the tax revenue of the Argentine State would increase by some seven billion dollars a year, derived solely from the collection of traffic and export duties through river transport. But that is not all: the Argentine State could guarantee the application of environmentally friendly technologies in the dredging of the river bed, thus ensuring the cessation of the environmental damage that is currently taking place as a result of aggressive dredging that damages the river bed, which will inevitably cause environmental disasters in the medium and long term along the entire north-south extension of the river.

The latter is of vital importance for the conservation of the native biomes of the Argentine Republic, particularly the emergent wetlands of the Guarani Aquifer and the Humid Pampa, since the infiltrations derived from the destruction of the river bed as a result of erosive dredging will increasingly cause droughts in the wetlands and floods to the south, in the basin of the Río de la Plata. This, together with the desertification caused by plundering agriculture, i.e. soybean agriculture, is undermining part of the natural wealth of one of the largest and most varied countries in the world in terms of climate and biomes, as a consequence of its wide latitude.

Thus, with a state administration of inland river traffic, in addition to recovering sovereign dominion over its own resources, the Argentine nation-people would be able to reverse the damage caused to the national biosphere, guaranteeing the sustainability of life in the country. In the opposite scenario, if Argentina fails to appropriate what belongs to it by right, the global elites embodied in the large corporations of international trade would take away all the wealth and fertility of the native soil, leaving behind them a devastated land and a devastated country with its ecology seriously and perhaps irreparably damaged.

However, there are some projects that have examined both economic and environmental issues, and which also foresee the need to guarantee the riverside inhabitants access to the river and the use of the riches obtained from it through artisanal fishing. Among them are the bill on water transport with cargo reserve and the one that foresees the creation of a fund for the development of the naval industry.

The latter in particular suggests the levying of a 2% tax on overseas freights, which could be used to finance the construction of five to seven Panamax-type vessels of the size of those currently operating in the Paraná basin each year in national shipyards in order to expand the country’s naval fleet and form a state transport company to take charge of the freights without the need to resort to private capital companies. Through the application of the so-called Argentine Naval Plan, it would be possible to finance the construction in national shipyards of barge trains for a harmonious dredging of the river bed, which would be environmentally friendly in the Argentine Mesopotamia area.

These projects as a whole, which make up this plan, date back to 2002 and are widely supported by broad sectors of the political arc, however, they have been sleeping the sleep of the just for nineteen years while the corporations take advantage of the river and destroy it and the provincial and municipal governments consent to the plundering by the powerful while persecuting the local fishermen.

Regarding this problem, the president of the Argentine Naval Forum and referent of the group Social 21/La Tendencia, Martín Ayerbe, said: “The Creoles are persecuted by the authorities who control the river and their fishing gear is confiscated or they are fined for the practice of survival fishing, while the river is monopolized by multinational companies that appropriate the wealth of the Argentines. We are talking about Argentines living as foreigners in their own land”.

With the expiration of Hidrovía S.A.’s contract, a historical dilemma begins, perhaps a turning point that could turn the course of river activity in the Argentine Republic, culminating in the execution of the unique opportunity in three decades to regain sovereign power over the main hydrographic resources of the country or alternatively, it could vanish in the complete demonstration of an express will to worship transnational interests and the power of the global elite. The coin is in the air, and rarely has history placed us in front of such clear crossroads that demonstrate in such a linear way the interests that a government intends to defend.

We are at the gates of a new feat of Obligado, since on one side are the Argentines and on the opposite shore are crouching the emissaries of the imperial power. What will be the path chosen by the Argentine government? Will it renew the concession changing the collar, but without ceasing to be a dog, or will it fight for the legitimate rights of all Argentines, this time not laying chains as the patriot Lucio Mansilla did, but breaking those that bind us and force us to carry a burden of two centuries, after that sad defeat of Caseros in which the power won and we Argentines lost?

In four days we will know, the insurmountable thing about the situation is that in this riverbed that forks into two tributary branches there are no half measures. Whichever route is chosen will seal beyond any doubt the declaration of the principles that the government will choose from now on to guide its international trade policy. After April 30, no one will be able to ignore the orientation of Argentina’s policy. Sovereignty or colonialism? That is the question.

Translation by Internationalist 360°