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A silent conflict escalates in the Waterway | The US promotes a controversial study on the Paraguayan section with the collaboration of the US Army Corps of Engineers


“I imagine how concerned you are with this issue of the Waterway,” said the European ambassador to his interlocutor, a Buenos Aires diplomat. Because it is clear that China is coming for its natural resources”. The Argentine, accustomed, did not flinch. He looked at the tomato from under the ambassador’s lips and said: “The only novel thing about what you tell me is that you say that China is also coming, that’s all; you and the United States came before.”

The Waterway is the subject of an incipient conflict between Paraguay and Argentinaand new agenda of the Security Council of the White House. Last September 6, the North American ambassador in Asunción, Marc Ostfieldannounced with a tweet a Master Plan for the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway with the collaboration of United States Army Corps of Engineers to study behavior and navigability of the river on the Paraguayan territory. “This will enhance the benefits of the Paraguay River as the main trade channel,” said Ostfield.

After the announcement, there was a meeting at the Paraguayan-American Chamber of Commerce, AmCham, with businessmen, the ambassador and the government. Photos. Tweets. And the Paraguayan foreign minister, Julio Cesar Arriolaoffered “all the institutional support required in the elaboration, design and execution” of the Master Plan.

The initiative in the corridor —essential for the transit of agricultural exports from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia—, was objected by a rapid political movement initiated by the former president of the Legislative branch of Chaco, and current deputy Hugo Sagar; he reached out to the governors of the Great North and entered the Foreign Relations Committee of the Argentine Congress through a draft declaration that identifies it as a national security problem.

The Foreign Ministry has now joined the escalation. as he knew Page 12, Argentina asked for explanations. “The Argentine Foreign Ministry demanded explanations from Paraguay. The Paraguayan government clarified that it is cooperation with US specialists on river issues, but not military cooperation, much less the military presence of foreign troops on the Paraguay River,” they said in San Martin Palace. In any case, they are still awaiting an official response and warn that “Paraguay has not fulfilled its obligation to inform other countries of the interventions it plans to carry out.”

In 2016-2017, there was a project with characteristics similar to the one opposed by the then Argentine ambassador in Asunción, Eduardo Zuain, the initiative did not advance but it ended up costing him his exit. Paraguay is the only country in the southern cone that does not have a diplomatic relationship with China. And instead, it recognizes Taiwan. In that sense, it is also United States strategic enclave in the southern part of the continent where he sees the specter of the Chinese threat grow.

Primer round

In September, the Chaqueño Hugo Sagar received a call from Asunción. “This is not a transcendence,” he heard from the other side of the line. “This is official, it is published on the page of the Foreign Ministry of Paraguay”.

From then on, it drove today’s Resolution 1630 approved unanimously in the Legislature. And on September 23 he achieved support from the Great North. “Unanimous regional support for the Chaco concern for US military presence in the Waterway”, said a statement. “On the last day of the 48th plenary meeting of the Parliament of the Norte Grande, in Catamarca, more than a hundred legislators from the ten provinces expressed their concern due to the imminent US military presence in the Paraguayan section of the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway”.

Ten days ago, the issue entered Congress where the deputy from Chaco Juan Manuel Pedrini and Juan Marino They submitted a draft resolution to the Foreign Relations Commission with the signature of 18 deputies. There they expressed “concern and rejection of the possible military presence of the United States in the Paraguayan sector of the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway, for threaten National Security and unbalance Defense relations between the member countries of Mercosur”.

The document described the initiative as a problem. “Aimed at maximizing the use of the Paraguay River and its river fleet, the largest in Latin America, absolute leader in Mercosur, exceeding 3,000 barges and more than 200 pushers,” he said. And he added: “Paraguay has the third largest river fleet in the world, with 47 foreign companies and 6 with national capital, only surpassed by the United States and China. The planned investments would exceed 110,000 million dollars, provided by multilateral credit organizations, North American and Paraguayan capital, and the advice of the US Army Corps of Engineers will be required”. In that sense, he considered the danger of being tied to a two-power mess. “The military presence of the United States government in our Paraná-Paraguay Waterway compromises the security of the riparian states and turns the region into a scene of foreign conflicts”.

In Asunción, the US embassy motorizes contacts in Congress to speed it up, meanwhile the Great Front of Fernando Lugo promotes a request for a report addressed to the Ministry of Industry to demand a schedule, deadlines, scope, studies, contractors and information on the legal support mechanism. This is not the first time that the United States has sought an agreement of this type, which is why all the alarms sounded quickly..

The Zuain antecedent

In 2016, then President Horacio Cartes promoted a Paraguay-United States Memorandum of Cooperation for an environmental impact study not only on the Paraguayan section, but also on more than 111 kilometers of the entire eastern coast of the province. It also included, as now, the support of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, a military-grade institution.

Hey Leslie, why Army engineers? an Argentine asked the US ambassador, Leslie Basset.

“Because they’re the best,” she said.

But, do you know that USAID, for example, also says that it is a civil organization, but it does not have civilians?? –he said– Do you know that Evo took them out of Bolivia for spying?

The then Argentine ambassador in Asunción, Eduardo Zuain, presented 7 formal complaints and more than 10 informal for the initiative. He was clear that it was a binational agreement between Paraguay and the United States, but the agreement had two defects. “One was that it included Argentine waters,” he said several times. “I argued that Paraguay had to modify it by excluding the Argentine territory because Argentina had not been consulted or invited to take part. But also, since the engineers who were going to do the study had military status, entering Argentine territory violated the Constitution because foreign troops cannot enter without permission from Congress. So, not only was Argentina not invited, but also the execution was a violation of the National Constitution.”

When the agreement was going to be approved by the Paraguayan Senate, Zuain received a wake-up call.

–You have fifteen minutes to send a note, if this is not approved –said his interlocutor. The ambassador wrote a complaint at full speed, the same tone with which he had already complained to the Government, stopped the debate and managed to stop the agreement, but that triggered his relationship with the Paraguayan Executive. Cartes, the foreign minister and the infrastructure minister withdrew their greetings. Zuain locked himself in the embassy to avoid trouble. He had support from Susana Malcorra but he knew that her days were numbered. Cartes personally called then President Mauricio Macri.

get him out of here -Told him. Zuain left the embassy a year later, in July 2017, after a sudden breakthrough in the Memorandum case with Iran, with him as a defendant. “I have to ask you to turn around”, warned Jorge Faurie. And the Argentine ambassador returned to Buenos Aires.

The monumental Conmebol building

Native forests and fresh water

The situation in Paraguay and the United States went through some crisis. The pandemic and Shanghai’s vaccine diplomacy caused some noise. And this year hehe effects of the European war triggered some disturbing claims for North American interests. In March and May, the rural society and the meat industry asked the president Mario Abdo, For example, the opening of the market to China
Quite a novelty. “The president of the Rural Association of Paraguay (ARP), Pedro Galli Romañach -published by the Paraguayan newspaper La Nación-, affirmed that Paraguay is among the 10 largest meat exporters in the world, and that therefore there are great pretensions about the possibility of entering the mainland china market”.

The giant of the north did not let go. He re-entered the hyperactive schedule. There was Venezuelan-Iranian Aircraft, sanctions against Cartes for “significantly corrupt” and another to the current vice president Hugo Velazquez, who until then was the candidate of the Colorado Party for the elections that begin to be played in December. For some, these moves are part of the dominoes that seek to rearrange pieces of the power elites. The Master Plan is another milestone. He has million-dollar investment promises, a former partner of Cartes in the game, money from Goldman Sach and the Waterway: a strategic and national security issue for the United States in its battle with China.

A study from May 2022, from the Eno Center for Transportation de Washington noted that interest. “It must carefully observe the development of river freight corridors of other nations, particularly China, with a view to economic competitiveness and national security.”, he points out. “While cargo traffic is relatively low, potential development on the Amazon and Paraná-Paraguay rivers poses significant threats to the cost competitiveness of US exporters. Chinese state-owned companies are investing in facilities along these rivers”.

Another report from last year devoted two paragraphs to the Waterway, after a curious reading of the relations between China and “Peronism.” “The People’s Republic of China is not explicitly building an anti-American alliance in Argentina. Rather, it is the significant engagement of the PRC in a wide range of commercial, political, and security arenas that threatens to facilitate a self-destructive trajectory by Argentina’s Peronist leaders,” wrote the influential researcher at the College’s Institute for Strategic Studies. Army War Officer Evan Ellis.

The article posted on the Southern Command website was written when China still aspired to the dredging tender that was suspended. “Perhaps the most strategically important Argentine project in which China participates is a contract to dredge and exploit a river toll in the Paraguay-Paraná river corridor., fundamental for the agricultural exports of five South American countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia) -said Ellis–. It seems that Argentina is going to award the project to Shanghai Dredging, over competitors such as the Belgian and Luxembourgian Jan de Nul, which has provoked the consternation of Argentina’s neighbors.

Hugo Sager from Chaco spoke several times about what is really at stake. “Native forests, freshwater and groundwater will surely be a source of future tension. Let us remember that fresh water is currently being traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange. It’s a strategic issue.”

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