Paraná must be nationalized by DNU, and then sent to Congress for ratification. The democratic stability and governability of our country peremptorily require it, and no treaty signed by Argentina prevents it.
The exporting grain companies are the main users of our main navigation channel, badly called the waterway. They literally set the exchange rate in our country and, together with the private ports, are the main source of extortion and blackmail to which our government is subjected. Neither one nor the other should be private. Not only for an economic issue, but essentially political.
The State can and should use the river toll rates as a bargaining tool. Given that the soybean pools and their principals, the export monopolies, are reluctant to liquidate soybeans in a timely manner – arguing that it is private property – if they want to use Paraná to export it -which is a good of Argentines – they will have to pay a rate that will be automatically updated based on the time elapsed: the faster they settle, the lower the rate will be.
A democratic State has the responsibility to preserve for itself issues and instruments that are vital and strategic for its governance, and that in the hands of companies with lobbying capacity, suffocate popular governments.. In the 1990s, Argentina got rid of its ports, its merchant fleet, its railways, the National Grain and Meat Boards, silos, the Paraná, etc. As the only compensation for such dispossession, they received an enormous political and economic vulnerability, which drastically reduced their capacity for negotiation, control, and regulation.
The disproportionate increase in food prices and the non-liquidation of foreign currency are the natural consequence of those privatizing decisions.
The current recovery of Paraná by the State was not the product of a struggle, as was the nationalization of the Suez Canal carried out by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956, in an act of sovereignty against Great Britain, France and Israel, which prevented construction of the Assuan dam. Nor is it similar to the struggle of the Panamanian people, led by General Omar Torrijos, that ended US control of the Panama Canal. The Torrijos-Carter treaty, signed in 1977, was ratified by a popular consultation, which obtained 67% approval. In both cases, the collection of the toll reports very significant tax revenues for both nations: US$4.2 billion for Panama y$6.3 billion for Egypt in 2021.
Although the Paraná is not a canal, for merchandise traffic purposes it operates in the same economic and political dimension as the aforementioned canals. The dispute over control of its navigability also saw war conflicts, such as the Vuelta de Obligado (November 20, 1845, where we lost) and Punta Quebracho (June 4, 1846, where we won). Precisely at this last point, where the battle that marked the end of the Anglo-French blockade of the main ports of the Argentine Confederation took place, is the private plant and port of Cargill. Ironies of history…
The Paraná flows through the Plata basin, a region that covers 3 million square kilometers and runs through 5 countries. It is a route of exceptional geopolitical importance, through which most of the trade in grains and their derivatives that are produced in this geographical vastness circulates, essentially destined for Southeast Asia. This colossal trading volume is entirely in the hands of monopoly companies.
Rates have always shaped the national configuration, and especially since the concession of the railways to the English, who used them as a way to discourage the industrialization of our country. An example of this is what happened with the flour mills in Colonia de Esperanza, where the English stifled the industrialization of wheat, charging a much more expensive rate for flour than for raw grains, which they industrialized in their country. The same happens with most of the wheat that we export to Brazil.
The expiration of the concession for the dredging and beaconing of the trunk channel put in our hands instruments of great political importance: the collection of the fee and the possibility of creating a public company for dredging and beaconing. This company should be in the orbit of the Ministry of Defense and provide its services to the General Administration of Ports, which is doing an excellent job in managing and collecting the toll. It thus demonstrates, in fact, that privatization is neither necessary nor convenient.
The end of the concession provides an exceptional opportunity to strengthen our democracy, control smuggling, improve fiscal accounts, and strengthen our negotiating position vis-à-vis large users. Paraphrasing Perón when he was negotiating the price of the English: they have the soy and we have the way to get it out. Either we agree based on the common good, or we remain hostage to the detriment of all: