Corrientes, a bastion of resistance against the national wetlands law

© Sebastian Granata

In 2020, after the demonstrations due to the fires in the Paraná Delta, the Environment Commission of the Chamber of Deputies inaugurated the debate for the sanction of a Wetlands Law, whose treatment was then imposed as urgent but was interrupted for the third time in the country’s history. In this framework, one jurisdiction –the one that apparently contains the most significant portion of the surface of these ecosystems– marked a dissidence in relation to the initiative. It was Corrientes, the province in which grasslands, forests, palm groves, wetlands, forest plantations and rural infrastructure burned (the sad enumeration is from Emilio Spataro, founder of the organization Guardianes del Y’Vera, member of the National Wetlands Network and licensed in Environmental Management). Through a resolution, the Corrientes Senate expressed its “concern” about the treatment of the norm.

“Things are much better because it rained… and then what?” Spataro wonders on the other end of the phone, with no apparent relief. is that the phenomenon of The girl, linked to drought, and climate change make an explosive combo with another side of the problem: political inaction. Corrientes is not only the province that contains the largest area of ​​wetlands — the estimate is provided by Senator Martín Barrionuevo; strictly speaking, the official data will be known at the time a national inventory arises, through the law–, but also a bastion of resistance to a regulation for which civil society has been bidding for a decade and which points to the heart of its productive matrix. The pressure comes from the forestry monoculture of exotic species and the rice and livestock sectors.

The resolution of the Senate of Corrientes

That resistance reached its maximum expression in August 2020, after the Lower House opened the debate for the sanction of a National Wetlands Law. There was not yet a project cooked: there were ten in dance. Through a resolution (number 23), the Corrientes Senate expressed its “concern because of the negative implications that these projects have for the production system” and linked this with a defense around autonomy –a historical position of the province–. “What underlies is being against the (national) state regulating what happens in private fields, so that their owners can do what they want,” explains Spataro. A week before, the Coordinator of Productive Entities of Corrientes –made up of more than 10 organizations, including the Rural Society, the Agrarian Federation, Argentine Rural Confederations and Coninagro–had also rejected the possibility of a national regulation appearing in that spirit. Those organizations are the ones that later “demand state aid in the face of droughts and fires,” questions the environmentalist in a note for Tierra Viva Agency.

The controversial resolution can be found on the official website of the Senate of Corrientes, where it is also possible to find the shorthand version. Barrionuevo, from the FdT, recalls that It was an initiative of the provincial ruling party, that is, radicalism aligned with Together for Change. The FdT abstained. “Our argument was that there were national legislators to make whatever proposals they wanted about Corrientes, that we didn’t have to assess the activity of the National Congress,” he says. The five opposition senators fought for a vote to be taken provincial law for the creation of an inventory of wetlands. They made it. “We got to work, we did it well, participatively. The progress is that we are going to stop talking in the abstract to have a concrete discussion. We are going to have the characterization and identification of the wetlands of Corrientes,” he says.

The arguments of the Corrientes ruling party

“Make room in the suburbs for 800 thousand Corrientes” if the National Wetlands Law prospers, he went so far as to say to field bugs a national deputy from Corrientes, the radical Jorge Vara, former provincial Minister of Production and author of his own national wetlands bill, in line with the demands of the productive sectors. In a September 2020 note, the media outlet postulated that, according to the criteria applied in the legislation, “70 percent of the surface of the province could be left unproductive”. That argument appears in the shorthand version. Like these others: “It cannot be that legislators from dry, rocky areas come to solve the productive system in Corrientes for us”; “We are not willing to be turned into a productive mummy.”

Barrionuevo, who in that session postulated the need for “the production system to be sustainable from an environmental point of view as well,” trusts that the inventory, as a precision instrument, will be the way out of “the dogmas.” On the contrary, Spataro believes that the existence of a provincial inventory reflects the “fear” of the political power that there is a “coordinated process from the Nation with a strong scientific methodology, which implies that there are more wetlands than those that the province wants recognize”.

Background: the Pino Solanas project

There is a precedent for that Senate resolution. The environmental lawyer tells it Enrique Vialewho worked with Sunshine Pine when the legislator presented the project in Congress in 2016. He also detected the fierce opposition of the senators from Corrientes. And in fact, in the third and last attempt for the sanction of the law, the text was stalled in a commission chaired then by a Corrientes, José Ruiz Aragón (FdT), the one of Agriculture. Viale assures that the one on wetlands is “the most lobbed law in history”, above the one on forests and glaciers.

Losses caused by fires

“A wetlands law would not have stopped all this. Nobody can know if the fires had not occurred, because there is also drought and climate change, but surely it would be better if it existed, even for production. A law orders the territory and the productive activities on these ecosystems, without prohibiting them. Wetlands act as firebreaks, they are sponges that provide water in times of drought and remove it in times of excess water. Its conservation is key to confronting climate change”, explains Viale. And he adds: “They always tell us that the law for entering the provinces. The devastating fires in Corrientes are the best and saddest example that destroying the environment is economically very negative: there is talk of losses of 75 billion pesos”.

A few in their extreme arrogance invented the path of their own destruction. In their ambition they want the citizens to pay for this through production recovery funds. All the money and public transfers must go to guarantee environmental restoration, peasant settlers and affected communities, firefighters, and promote a true fire management plan, based on the implementation of the Wetlands Law,” concludes Spataro.

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