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2009-03-23

Maritime border dispute between Peru and Chile heats up

Winston F. Burges

After the Chilean government criticised the outbreak of nationalist demonstrations in Peru, the long-simmering dispute between the countries over their maritime border flared up again.

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Chile’s foreign relations minister, Mariano Fernandez, warned that relations between the two countries could be harmed if the nationalist uproar in Peru over the maritime border dispute continued.

Chile’s foreign relations minister, Mariano Fernandez, warned that relations between the two countries could be harmed if the nationalist uproar in Peru over the maritime border dispute continued.

SANTIAGO, Chile – The long-simmering dispute between Peru and Chile over their maritime border in the Pacific flared up again on 21 March as Chile criticised the outbreaks of nationalist fervour that erupted in Peru three days after the Peruvian government submitted its arguments to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The Chilean government called on its Peruvian counterparts to avoid using inflammatory language when talking about the dispute. According to Reuters, Chile’s foreign minister, Mariano Fernandez, warned that relations between the two countries could be harmed if the attitude in Peru continued. “I don’t think that this uproar is a good thing. If you look, Chile is very calm,” he said, “[but in Peru] there has been some immoderate and inappropriate language”.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean navy, Admiral Rodolfo Codina, spoke more forcefully and said that the navy was ready for a possible conflict with Peru over the claim brought against Chile in The Hague. “It is our duty as a navy to be ready for any eventuality,” he told Radio Programas del Peru.

According to ANSA, however, the Peruvian foreign minister, Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde, said that his fellow countrymen were championing a peaceful solution by showing their support for the government’s decision to take the case to The Hague. “I think it’s very important”, he said, “to emphasise that, by supporting a way of solving this amicably in the courts, the public is also championing a way of peace, of understanding, and of trying to settle matters through the proper channels”.

Tempers got heated after 19 March, when Allan Wagner, the Peruvian government’s representative at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, submitted arguments in defence of Peru’s rights over its Pacific border with Chile.

This managed to unite most Peruvians behind their president, Alan Garcia, who received demonstrations of support from trade unions, opposition leaders, business associations, and the general public. “It is a lovely national day of unity and vindication. And today we ratify our peaceful and friendly wishes and confirm our decision to strengthen relations between the nations,” President Garcia told La República, when he announced that Peru had submitted its arguments.

Garcia’s predecessor, Alejandro Toledo, told El Comercio, “I am a realist and I am a patriot. I support President Garcia’s position although we disagree strongly on other matters, but [not] on this one. I have personally written to him and told him that [my party] Possible Peru and Alejandro Toledo will support the government on this”.

The dispute stems from Chile’s view that treaties signed in 1952 and 1954 settled the maritime border as a horizontal line in the Pacific. Peru, however, says that these were only fishing treaties, and contends that the line should run diagonally south to west, following the direction of the land border.

Chile has until 9 March next year to reply to Peru’s arguments. There will then be further periods of reply and rejoinder, with up to six months allowed for each. After that, the court will hear oral arguments. The final and unappealable decision will be announced in 2012.

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