Neighbors and environmentalists rejected the project, which would be based in Punta Yeguas.
The Chinese consortium Shandong Baoma Fishery Group is determined to set up a «megaport», a logistics base for more than 500 Asian fishing boats. The proposal sparked a resistance within neighbors of the area, environmentalists and local fishermen.
Although the company has already fulfilled the legal requirements and is now awaiting the authorization of the Municipal Government of Montevideo (Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo) to use the land, the government is paving the way for the Asians by extending, for example, the port of Montevideo’s area of influence.
The project, which represents an investment of more than US $ 200 million, involves a free trade zone, a shipbuilding and repair shipyard, a supply site for ships and their crews, a plant for storage of marine products from the high seas, and a fishmeal production plant, the company told El País.
However, environmentalists, neighbors and local fishermen have already showed their discomfort towards the initiative and are not planning in making it easy to the government or the Chinese consortium. Rodrigo García, marine biologist and member of the «Oceanosanos» NGO told El País «this was all negotiated behind closed doors in Uruguay XXI». The environmentalist questioned the initiative, as he understands «it will increase the overfishing the seas are already suffering». He also explained that «Chinese fishing leaves much to be desired». Environmentalists keep explaining that several studies and surveys indicate that China is the country with the most cases of illegal fishing on the planet»
For his part, Milko Schvartzman, specialist in marine conservation and coordinator of the «Oceanosanos» project, said they are against the initiative because «Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing is destroying the marine environment of the South Atlantic». In addition, he understands that «the only reason why China wants to set up a fishing megaport in Montevideo is to avoid controls and to further lower their production costs. The fishing they do is only profitable because their flag state subsidizes their fuel and because they use slave labor.» According to the organization’s information, at this moment there are 510 fishing vessels from the Northern Hemisphere – of 4 nationalities: China, Taiwan, Spain and Sotuh Korea – which are «preying without control of any kind, throwing tons of garbage and toxic waste to the sea, and enslaving their crews.» As El País learned, neighbors and environmentalists are calling for a protest against the settlement of the Chinese port on March 22nd at 6.30 pm, from Plaza Independencia to the Intendencia.
Another person who questioned the project was Juan Curbelo, director of the National Ports Administration (Administración nacional de Puertos), representing Partido Nacional. «I have serious doubts and many questions. We are setting this port in Capurro, with a construction that costs US$ 100 million – are they going to set up a fishing port 5 kilometers further south?», he asked.
The neighbors and fishermen from Santa Catalina also oppose to the project. On one hand, they criticize the possible environmental impact of the initiative, and on the other, they warn that the mega-construction will affect their work and jobs. El País talked to two neighbors in Santa Catalina and a fisherman from the area, and although they all preferred to keep their names secret, El País was able to gain access to a series of statements and leaflets that a neighborhood movement is distributing daily within the neighborhood. In a letter titled «Say no to the Chinese port», the neighbors point out that «the most vulnerable sector of the population is assuming a disproportionate burden of the consequences and effects of environmental degradation. Why doesn’t the Chinese port settle in Carrasco or Punta Gorda?»
They warn that «Chinese fishing has systematically devastated the seas and oceans it has fished» and that «they do not respect territorial seas and they take advantage of the inefficiency and absences of governments that can not or do not care to protect their wealth in fish population and environmental welfare.»
They also claim that Chinese fishing is characterized by their «brutal treatment of their crews, in some cases even enslaving them» and that «artisanal fishing is disrupted» as well as «industrial fishing».
A meeting in China and Uruguay XXI’s strategic role
In 2016, as part of a China-LAC, it was the first time that consortium representatives approached the Uruguayan government. While this meeting was crucial for the entrepreneurs to present the project to the Uruguayan government, it was not until last year that the dimension of this investment was revealed. In that first stage, Uruguay XXI’s contribution and role was fundamental. Antonio Carámbula, Uruguay XXI’s executive director, told El País that the procedures began just last year. For his part, Walter Sánchez, area manager in CSI Engineers (the consultancy agency working for the Chinese consortium) informed El País that the negotiations are ongoing and that although the land has already been acquired, they are only waiting for the «recategorization» of the registers for the land. Relations between China and Uruguay are in good shape. In January, Chinese President Xi-Jinping greeted President Tabaré Vázquez for his birthday and he returned the gesture with a letter. «Uruguay is a gateway for Mercosur and all of Latin America’s Southern Cone», said Vázquez in his response, adding: «With macroeconomic stability, institutional soundness and the best income distribution in the region, our country offers a reliable framework to invest, work and develop». In 2016, together with Carolina Cosse – then Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining -, Vázquez traveled to China to open commercial and diplomatic opportunities.
The Chinese company has already requested the Intendencia for permits
The Chinese consortium Shandong Baoma Fishery Group has already asked the Intendencia to recategorize the land it intends to use to set up this project. According to the company, the land was bought last year and they are now only waiting for authorization from the municipal government. They also pointed out the Planning Division within the Intendencia has already given an answer to their requests and that they are now in the phase of information exchange.