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By Ricardo Carrere
The Finnish company Botnia has a peculiarity that distinguishes it from all other enterprises - national and foreign - existing in the country: its confinement in enclaves closely guarded by private security guards and police officers. In a brief tour of Paysandú and Fray Bentos carried out between July 28 and 29, we were able to identify four such enclaves: the nursery, the factory, the workers 'neighborhood and the executives' neighborhood.
The Finnish company Botnia has a particularity that distinguishes it from all other enterprises - national and foreign - existing in the country: its confinement in enclaves closely guarded by private security guards and police officers. There would even be a fifth enclave (the private school for the children of Finns), but we will leave the issue of children aside.
The fortress of the nursery
Botnia owns some 160,000 hectares, where it has its plantations installed under the name Forestal Oriental (FOSA). The eucalyptus seedlings for the plantations are produced in the San Francisco nursery, located 8 kilometers from Paysandú. Some 30 company officials and another 100 workers from the Nazca contractor work there. Since very recently, the nursery has been completely surrounded with a very thick wire mesh, about 3 meters high, with huge light bulbs.
It also has 6 surveillance cameras and a large antenna is currently being installed. It has a front door that only opens if you announce who you are. In any case, the visits are scheduled and the workers enter the buses. There are security guards at the gatehouse and throughout the nursery, and at night the company hires service 222, that is, it is guarded by policemen. Once inside the nursery, workers cannot leave without authorization, not even during the hour - no pay - of rest at noon. Nor can they enter if they arrive a few minutes (2-3) late, for any good reason they may have for not arriving on time.
The fortress of the factory
As in the case of any factory, its access is understandably limited. What is not understandable is that photos are not allowed. In the month of June we drove to the international bridge with the sole objective of taking a photo from the bridge to the factory. The prefecture officials who are at the entrance of the same told us that it was not allowed to photograph the factory. A month later, we drove from Paysandú to Fray Bentos and passed in front of the factory entrance.
There we stopped and got off to take a photo. Immediately, a security guard appeared who told us that you could not photograph yourself and that to do so you had to ask for permission at the office. We replied that we were on a public highway and that he had no authority to prevent us from taking photos, so we proceeded to do so.
Later we went to Playa Ubici, located a few kilometers away, from where we could take as many as we wanted - this time without any restriction - from the whole of the industrial complex.
The strength of the workers' quarter
Near the entrance to the factory is, on the other side of the road, the neighborhood for the company's foreign workers. There are two types of housing: containers and houses.
As a fortress, every few meters there is a checkpoint with security guards, as well as police officers guarding the homes. In light of previous experience with “photographic shots”, this time we opted to engage in a friendly conversation with a guard before proceeding - with his permission - to photograph the homes. This conversation also had interesting fruits, since we were lucky enough to run into a deep connoisseur of local history. This person told us that Botnia's is a repeated story for the Fraybentinos, since before they had had the experience of building the international bridge, which had left two consequences: the tripling of cases of venereal diseases and the increase in unmarried young women. pregnant According to our informant, the consequences will now be the same, but in much greater quantity.
The fortress of the Botnia residential neighborhood
Botnia's fourth fortress is located at the exit of Fray Bentos in the direction of Las Cañas spa. Here is a set of large houses, intended to be inhabited by the top executives of the company, mostly Finns. Also here, Botnia officials are guarded by sentry boxes with security guards. Knowing the allergy to the photos of the company, we were taking pictures from the car in motion in the distance that mediates between one sentry box and the other.
Then we stopped at the last gate and asked a guard if we could go through the neighborhood to get to the highway. We were talking with the nice guard for a few minutes and he told us that there was no problem, but when we said goodbye he said: “the only thing I ask of you is not to take photos, because these people do not like taking photos ”. And this time, out of respect for the guard, we didn't. It was a shame, because we passed a strange building, which we would have liked to photograph, which is almost certainly a Finnish sauna.
Why so many strengths?
The construction of fortresses is justified when outside of them there are real or potential enemies from whom it is necessary to defend oneself. In theory, a company that brings wealth, development and jobs should not create enemies but rather attract adherents in the area where it is installed.
It is clear that Botnia has known how to make enemies, particularly among the people of Gualeguaychú. Although it seems highly unlikely that this could result in some kind of attack, it could in a way justify surveillance (although not a ban on taking photos) of the factory. But the surveillance of the two residential areas seems more aimed at defending against possible theft by the local poor, who remain as poor as when the company arrived promising jobs and development.
In reality, the most important potential enemy is not external but internal, and that seems to be Botnia's fear. Indeed, the economic “boom” that the construction of the factory brought to Fray Bentos is now coming to an end. Furthermore, according to what we were informed in the Fray Bentino restaurant where we had lunch, it has already come to an end, because the workers who knew how to spend part of their salaries in the city have almost completely disappeared. Now comes the moment of truth.
In this sense, years ago the Guayubira Group warned about the issue of employment and that both the forestry and the pulp mill would translate into a net loss of jobs at the local level. Based on the company's own environmental impact assessment report, we said that the factory would not create jobs for local people, who could at most work on the safety and cleanliness of the plant. Such an assertion is already becoming reality in the security area, where the company's fears have resulted in the creation of surveillance systems that require the hiring of private guards and service 222. It is also likely –although we have not investigated it- that the cleaning of the houses in the two neighborhoods of Botnia has led to the hiring of cleaners. Thus, what was predicted by Guayubira in terms of employment would be fulfilled. Added to this is –as we also predict- the employment generated at the level of sex workers, which includes high levels of child prostitution.
In the forest area, the rural exodus caused by the afforestation of more and more fields continues to increase. These plantations generate growing opposition to the company from many actors affected by them. At the same time, the organization of workers continues to grow –both at the nursery and plantation levels- which generates new fears. The time when you could do anything at work without paying the consequences - such as preventing unionization - is also coming to an end.
And the long-awaited instance of putting the factory into operation has not yet arrived. At that moment it will be known if the promises of zero odors and zero contamination are true. If not, new potential enemies will appear affected in the tourism sector, in fishing, in the production of honey.
Finally, it will be time to know if the development promises are fulfilled or if everything was reduced to the “boom” caused by the construction of the factory, as predicted by Guayubira.
Perhaps the company already knows the answers to these questions and perhaps that explains its aversion to photos, which will serve to illustrate what is said in articles like this one. And perhaps her tendency to build fortresses is due to the fact that she is aware that she is going to have to live surrounded by unemployed workers seeking to survive in whatever way, as is already happening in the once quiet and safe city of Fray Bentos.
* Guayubira Group