Tensions between Chile and Peru over a Peruvian law that provides for the creation of a new administrative district along the border between the two countries, show no signs of abating.
Chile’s defence minister Jose Antonio Gomez ramped up the rhetoric labelling Peru’s move a “pipe dream” and an incursion into Chilean territory.
The Peruvian law passed this November, creates a new district named Yarada-Los Palos giving the residents who live there the right to elect political representatives.
It follows the historic decision of the International Court of Justice in 2014 to decide a long running border dispute with Chile in Peru’s favour. The United Nations court ordered Chile to relinquish to Peru 21,000 kilometers squared of its ocean and conferred upon Peru a further 28,000 kilometers squared of fishing waters previously under international jurisdiction.
The court’s decision did not however resolve the issue of where exactly the new border would begin. Chile argues that it should begin at the coastline position where the current border runs. Peru argues that it should begin 270 metres inland at the Punto Concordia established in the 1929 Treaty of Lima. The proposed Yarada-Los Palos district falls into this disputed area.
Speaking to Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, defence minister Gomez was resolute that “(Yarada-Los Palos) is Chilean territory” and that there would be “no discussion on this point.”
Following these comments Peru’s president Ollanta Humala was equally resolute that “the creation of the district Yarada-Los Palos is an irreversible act” but eschewed calls to make an official complaint commenting that “any response that the Peruvian State deems necessary, will be made by the appropriate channels, which is the Foreign Ministry.”
Other members of Peru’s political class were not so conciliatory however. Former foreign minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde lambasted the “thuggish tone” of Gomez’s comments and argued that “ultimately, it is absolutely absurd to deny the power of the Peruvian State to create the jurisdictional entities that it deems appropriate for the administration of the national territory in exercise of its sovereignty.”
Though few identify any serious risk of this increasingly acrimonious dispute escalating into military conflict, Chile has recently accused Peru of sending troops into the region. Last month it also conducted the largest sea, air and land military manoeuvres in it’s history close to the northern border with Bolivia and Peru. On the eve of the manoeuvres Chile denounced the Peruvian government for the formation of Yarada-Los Palos.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales declared the manoeuvres an act of intimidation:
“Maybe some conservative groups in Chile still think that these kind of exercises of the Armed Forces will intimidate Peru, and Bolivia,” he said. “They are wrong. With this kind of action, only the dignity of the Chilean people is damaged.”
National animosities between Chile, Peru and Bolivia run back to the War of the Pacific of 1879-1883, in which Chile emerged victorious and vast swathes of Peruvian and Bolivian territory (including 400 kilometers of Bolivia’s coastline that left it a landlocked nation) fell under Chilean jurisdiction.
Since the end of the war further military conflict between these countries has been avoided, however, times of economic difficulty have always proved opportune times to whip up nationalist sentiments and distract attention away from internal issues.