Finnish pulp monopoly UPM plunders and destroys Uruguay

Featured image: “Out with UPM!” Protest against UPM in Uruguay. Source: Punalippu

On Tuesday the 2nd of April the UPM-train transporting pulp from the UPM factory in Paso de los Toros, Uruguay, to Montevideo, started its operation. UPM is a Finnish forest industry monopoly. On this occasion, the Finnish revolutionary news site Punalippu has published an analysis of Finnish imperialism in Uruguay, which is an important country for the Finnish forest monopolies. In 2018 there was two Finnish pulp factories in Uruguay, and Finnish imperialism was one of the biggest foreign investors in Uruguay. After this, a third factory and infrastructure to support its operation have been made. Finnish imperialism operates in Uruguay under the predominance of Yankee imperialism.

Map of the operations of the forest monopolies in Uruguay. On the map is marked the new factory of Paso de los Toros, the railway project and “improvements” to the harbor of Montevideo. Source: Punalippu

Finnish monopolies of the paper industry, which also the UPM represents, are very important, and export capital to oppressed nations. This development has accelerated after 2008, with the interests laying especially in eucalyptus tree, which became the main ingredient in the world market of pulp.

The first Finnish pulp factory in Uruguay was established in 2005 in Fray Bentos. The 1.1 billion dollars was the largest foreign investment until then in the history of Uruguay. Today this factory belongs to UPM.

The factory in Fray Bentos is located along the Uruguay river, with Argentina on the other shore. Agreements made by the two countries say that the countries must consult each other on issues concerning the river. However Uruguay permitted the factory to be built there and its sewage waters to be ran into the river without consulting Argentina. Since the beginning of its operation, the factory has caused bad smell in the area and damage to the fish in the river. The factory has received multiple environmental fines that however were too small to really cause any economical pressure on the company. In protests against the factory, the masses burned Finnish flags and denounced the then-president of Finland Tarja Halonen.

Picture of protests against the Fray Bentos factory. Source: Punalippu

In 2023 a pulp factory of UPM began operations in Paso de los Toros. This investment was worth 3,5 billion dollars and was the largest in the history of Uruguay as well as of UPM. This factory is also the largest pulp mill in the world. In addition to UPM, the Austrian Andritz and the German Deutsche Bahn are involved in the Paso de los Toros megaproject.

The State of Uruguay has given the foreign imperialist company many benefits for establishing the factory in Paso de los Toros. The factory has received tax and toll liberties, and it is allowed to use the Rio Negro river for free. In 2017 the government of Uruguay and UPM made agreements for projects for “improving” public infrastructure, which have now reached the worth of 3 billion dollars. The most important is the UPM-train which according to the government is a ”central railway”. This railway is a direct connection between the factory in Paso de los Toros to the harbor in Montevideo, and on it the UPM transports have priority. Promises of passenger trains have been made, but their fulfillment is still far away in the future at best. ”No to the UPM train” movement has protested the imperialist mega-project.

Banner protesting the UPM-train. Source: Punalippu

The local residents protested in thousands to protect the Rio Negro river and their lands. UPM and the government of Uruguay said there is nothing to worry, but soon after the factory caused the largest chemical leak in the history of Uruguay. In addition, the factory uses huge amounts of water, 130 million liters a day, robbing and destroying the water of Rio Negro, contributing to the drought and lack of drinking water in Uruguay.

Protests against the environmental destruction caused by UPM. Source: Punalippu

The amount of arable land in Uruguay is small and UPM owns 10% of it. The concentration of land into the hands of a few monopolies and big landlords also causes that larger and larger masses of peasants losing their lands. The working conditions on the tree plantation are hard. In some places workers have to work in slavery-like conditions.

We have also reported earlier on similar struggles of poor peasants against destruction caused by eucalyptus plantations in Brazil:

This development shows that the imperialist plunder sharpens the contradictions, between the oppressed nations and imperialism, and inside the oppressed nations.

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