By Santiago Carbone
Salto, Uruguay, Nov 1 (EFE).- “The bridge fell on top of us,” Salto resident Veronica Baldassini says of the experience of being unable to visit her ailing sister just across the Uruguay River in Argentina due to the closure of the border because of Covid-19.
The distance from Salto, Uruguay’s second city, to Concordia, Argentina, is just 7 km (4.3 mi) as the crow flies, but the Salto Grande bridge has been closed for 19 months.
Besides leading to prolonged family separation, the shutdown has upended the lives of people who formerly crossed the bridge daily for work or school.
Instead of a short drive or even walk, anyone wanting to make the trip faces an odyssey of more than 1,000 km that involves traveling from Salta to Montevideo for a ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires and from there to Concordia.
On Monday, Argentina and Uruguay re-opened to international visitors who have been fully vaccinated and show proof of a negative PCR test.
But the nearly 350 Uruguayans and Argentines who have organized as the Bridge Group say the expense of a daily PCR test is too great and are asking the respective governments to develop a special arrangement for people who cross the border on a regular basis.
Every so often, members of the group gather at each end of the bridge waving flags and banners to draw attention to their plight.
Baldassini tells Efe that she has been able to visit her sister in Concordia only once since the diagnosis and that their parents are increasingly desperate about the enforced separation from their ailing daughter.
“We don’t know how much longer we are going to have her,” Veronica says.
Natalia Ferreira, a Uruguayan who lives in Concordia with her Argentine husband and works in Salto, recalls how the separation made her mother’s death even more painful for the family.
“She was very attached to my son and I believe that not being able to see him for all this time hurt her very much,” Ferreira says. “My son could not say goodbye to her and she asked me for him right up until the last day.
When the end was near, Ferreira undertook the long journey to Salto via Buenos Aires and Montevideo to be with her mother for her final days.
Concordia resident Mariana Rodriguez says that her thoughts have filled with anticipation of reuniting with family in Salta and recounts having a recurring dream about seeing a car stop in front of her house, hearing the doorbell ring and opening the door to see her mother and sister.
“This situation is unbearable,” Argentina-born Salta resident Jessica Alvarez says. “To get up every day and be expected for the news we are all awaiting, that they make the crossing flexible.”
Four years ago, Franco Rodriguez moved to Concordia for his education, but after finding himself unable to be with his ailing father in Salto, he decided to return and pursue his studies remotely.
“I hope this is resolved as soon possible,” he tells Efe. “I started losing hope a while ago.” EFE