Territorial disputes and democracy in South America

On January 27, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague delivers the verdict of the so-called Maritime Dispute between Peru and Chile. The ruling could influence the borders of both countries – even that of Bolivia – if ruled in favor of Peru.

Peru called on the ICJ because it argues that an area of 37.900 km2 sea territory belongs to the country. The border between the two actors currently extends straight into the Pacific, and Peru wants to see it moved southwards. Chile maintains that the current border got fixed in the ‘Santiago Agreement’ of 1952 and affirmed in 1954. Yet, Peru deems this contract illegitimate because they were never meant to fix the border, but to avoid conflicts over fishing rights. Chile would impede these fishing rights because the border it insists on cuts the Peruvian town of Atico off of 200 nautical miles of fishing ground that the agreement actually grants it.

This issue has long been a preoccupation of Peru but the Pinochet administration it refused to discuss each time Peru demanded clarification. This led to a situation in which subsequent Chilean governments were left in the dark about Peru’s grievances. It is notable though, that the conflict has not generated military conflict, which in many parts of the world is still a solution to be expected. Even more so, both countries vowed to keep calm and respect the verdict no matter the outcome. Such development, however, has less to do with Chile’s superior Prussian-style military and its close collaboration with an invincible US. Rather, it is a sign of an increasing appreciation of democratic culture and recognition of international institutions. Furthermore, both countries experience a current economic boom with growth rates of 5-6%. This boom absorbs cheap Peruvian labor power into the Chilean economy, while adding massive remittances to former’s GNP.

This kind of interdependence becomes more important in Latin America, and was articulated Chile’s Minister of External Relations, Alfredo Moreno, in an interview with the German Die Zeit. He said that “you can have a right-wing government in one country and a left-wing government in the other – but you still need a road between the two”.

This applies also to the third actor, Bolivia, which will pay much attention to the verdict, too. Bolivia took Chile to the ICJ over territory in the copper rich Atacama Desert, it lost during the Pacific War 1879-1884. Similarly to Peru, Chile aimed to fix the boundary in a contract afterwards but offered Bolivia privileged access, if not sovereignty, over that land. For Bolivia, however, the loss remains a source of national grievance. Its decision to take Chile to the court is therefore also a sign of responsive governance.

In sum, all three countries feel a desire to settle old grievances, and do so in democratic and rather respectful tone – and this is a good sign for the continuing ascendance of Latin America at large.

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About Chris

Chris has now graduated from the University of Leicester. Hi there. I’m native German and live in Santiago de Chile. I’m en route to an MA International Relations and World Order via distance learning. My hobbies are languages and – surprise – International Relations. I will blog about everything here and there, as well as the uphill battles distance learners fight.

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