Two crises they harass the producers of the dry zone of the south of the province of Buenos Aires. A natural one, a product of the decrease in the flow of available water in the last decade. The other, institutional, points to the entity that manages the source on which its own subsistence depends, the Colorado River.
Since September of last year, the Bahía Blanca justice system focuses on the Bonaerense Valley Development Corporation (CORFO) that depends on the provincial government. The starting point was the appearance of an invoice, for a work on a relief bridge that, the irrigators assure, never done.
The document, which had to endorse the engineering, masonry and electricity works scheduled for the value of about $ 231,900, belonged to a photographer, linked to a CORFO employee. It had the number 1 and the start of activity of the station, it had only one week of validity in AFIP.
As time went by, the suspicion grew that the case of the bridge could not be an isolated event. The complaint of the Hydraulic Consortium of the Colorado River, where they are grouped about 1400 producers, it included the possible commission of crimes such as the use of apocryphal invoices, falsification, fraud, concealment, embezzlement of public funds and illicit association.
Before reaching the court, the case was made public, it led to a scandal in the productive area of the Patagones and Villarino districts and the administrative headquarters of the entity was raided last December by the Bahia prosecutor’s office. It also motivated a virtual beheading of the body, by the Buenos Aires government.
From the Hydraulic area of CORFO where he worked, emerged last October the new administrator, the engineer Ramiro Vergara. Towards him, requests for information from the Consortium began to pour in to provide documentation for the judicial investigation and clarify the dubious facts.
“We came across a wall” they described Clarion two producers, regarding the lack of collaboration awarded to Vergara in the time he has been in charge of the entity. “He does not answer us or he does it with evasions” The irrigators commented that last week they filed a complaint against the official.
They accuse him of violation of the duties of a public official, embezzlement of public funds and improper retention of documents, in addition to a possible cover-up. For example, they require details regarding about $ 20 million from last year’s budget that, they say, was not executed.
In its beginnings, in the 1960s, CORFO was financed with a contribution of 80% from the Buenos Aires State and the rest was in charge of the producers. At the moment, 70% of the entity’s budget comes from the users of the Colorado River whoWithout their water, which reaches the fields through canals, they would not be able to produce.
“We are tired of contributing the usual and receiving half the water. There is a reserve for no more than 90 days and that is how we all merge “warned one of the irrigators. A very critical outlook for the regional economy where the emblematic product, onion, in the last season, paid prices below costs.
Thus, it is estimated that the area, supplier of the Brazilian market, resigned income from about US $ 60 million. In addition, due to the scarcity of water, several onion producers moved further south, to the province of Rio Negro, where the planted area grew in a short time from 2,000 to 11,000 hectares.
Among Vergara’s complainants, there are those who link his elusive behavior with the proximity to the previous CORFO conduction. They mention that in the internal summary opened after the appearance of the first suspicious invoice, they would have acknowledged that they knew of its existence.
Others link it with the political participation that the administrator has in La Cámpora and the Frente de Todos. The atmosphere is even more rarefied by acts of intimidation of some producers, through the application of fines, for delays in the payment of the canon for the use of water.
With this climate of tension, CORFO called an assembly to the members of the Hydraulic Consortium and the Advisory Council, all producers. If there are no satisfactory answers, some could go out to cut routes next week.
From the provincial Senate, legislators of the Sixth Section expressed concern for what happens around CORFO. “Contracts for works not carried out, irregular billings, arbitrary variation of costs, absence of transparent contracting procedures with an excessive preponderance of direct contracts” mentioned senators Nidia Moirano, Andrés De Leo and David Hirtz, all from Juntos por el Cambio.
They emphasize that producers in the area suffer “Threats, abuses, abuses and proselytism” by those who control the entity. “The situation is very serious. A prompt audit is needed to shed light on the handling of funds of an entity that is under the administrative supervision of the Ministry of Agrarian Development of the Province, ”said Moirano.