Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Wikileaks cable renews Peru-Chile tensions
A new pair of confidential US Embassy cables released on Friday 18th February by whistle blowing website WikiLeaks has reopened the political quarrels between Peru and Chile over their ongoing maritime border dispute.
The cables focus on Peru's decision to take the border dispute case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The two countries have no formal treaty designating marine borders, although Chile considers the matter settled after two treaties in 1952 and 1954 addressed fishing rights in the Pacific Ocean.
Peru argues the maritime border should follow the downward curve of the land border, rather than the current configuration, which stretches out from the coast along longitudinal lines. Their interpretation of the maritime border area would give Peru control of an additional 37,900 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. The claim is backed by 99 per cent of Peruvians, according to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.
In the January 2008 cables sent from the US Embassy in Lima to embassies across Latin America and to Washington, the Peruvian perspective repeatedly discusses the case in The Hague as 'not an unfriendly action' and reaffirms a desire for continued dialogue to improve bilateral relations.
According to the cables, the Peruvian government sees their case in The Hague as a way to depoliticize the border dispute, which has been a source of tension between the two countries since the War of the Pacific (1879-84). The case was initiated by former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and current President Alan Garcia informed the Chilean government that while the issue would not be a priority for his administration, they would see the case through.
The cables however, also report that the border dispute with Chile is used as a political tool domestically by Peruvian politicians to improve their poll positions. For example, the cable says, "In 2004 then-President Alejandro Toledo, as his poll numbers dropped to single digits, stirred up the border dispute by publicly calling on Chile to open negotiations."
According to the leaked cables, Chilean officials felt 'betrayed' when Peru took the border dispute to The Hague, although they admitted that the Peruvians had kept them well-informed of the situation. While they remain confident over their legal claims, the officials concede that once the case arrived at The Hague 'anything can happen.'
In particular, a Chilean official, unnamed in the cable, said his government had been more concerned that the Hague could grant concessions to Peru after a unanimous Court decision in late 2007 to adjudicate a similar maritime dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua.
"That decision could effectively invalidate a bilateral agreement demarcating the territory, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX , on the grounds that only a full treaty can make such demarcations. XXXXXXXXXXXX feared this argument would provide a small window for Peru's contention that the 1952 and 1954 fishing accords were not legally sufficient to settle the boundary," the cable said.
Chile officials also expressed their opinion that Peru's lawsuit was hypocritical, as Peru benefits from their northern maritime boundary with Ecuador that follows longitudinal lines rather than the path of the land border.
General observations are made by the cables' author or authors, among them a suggestion that Chile might sacrifice the northernmost city of Arica, close to the Peruvian border, in favor of creating a military strong line further south at Iquique, in the case of military advances across the border.
Chilean officials have reacted fiercely to the leak. Jorge Tarud, a congressman of the Party of Democracy (Partido por la Democracia-PPD), and member of the Chilean congress Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, accused Peru's Ministry of Foreign Affairs of 'manipulating' the WikiLeaks cable published in Peru's El Comercio newspaper.
Tarud said “Among the dozens of cables that were written by the U.S. embassy in Lima, the majority of them favour Chile.” He did not show any evidence to sustain what he said though.
Alberto van Klaveren, Chile's representative to The Hague in the dispute with Peru said to Chilean newspaper El Mercurio that Peru's media was giving the cable a 'very biased interpretation'. He added “if there is something quite clear is that the court will always respect the supremacy of the treaties, and those treaties are obviously giving the reason to Chile.”
The case in the Hague is ongoing.
Sources: Living in Peru, Santiago Times
For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.
The cables can be found at the Wikileaks website, here.