Territorial DisputeMonday, January 27, 2014
Chile, Peru brace for maritime border ruling
ICJ set to put an end to long-simmering bilateral conflict over rich fishing grounds
SANTIAGO — The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague is set to rule today on a maritime dispute between Chile and Peru that could have important commercial and political ramifications as it seals the fate of around 38,000 square kilometres of rich fishing grounds.
Chilean and Peruvian politicians have been making all the right noises ahead of today’s ruling, urging citizens to remain calm and promising to respect whatever the ICJ decides.
The judicial case dates back to 2008 when Peru brought a complaint to the ICJ over a long-standing difference of opinion with Santiago about the proper way to delimit the maritime exclusive economic zones that each country has access to.
Simply put, the Peru-Chile dispute centres on which lines — parallel or perpendicular — to the current land border should be used to demarcate the respective sea territories.
Peru has argued that given the lack of a written agreement, the international standard should apply, whereas Chile insists that the matter was settled in two treaties signed in the 1950s. Lima disregards these treaties as merely fishing agreements.
The difference in opinions means that an area of approximately 67,139.4 square kilometres is in dispute in extremely rich fishing zones. Peru could gain half of this area if the court agrees with its case.
The fate of a further smaller area claimed by Peru and considered by Chile to be international waters will also be sorted.
Located in The Hague, the ICJ is an international tribunal specializing in legal disputes over international public law between sovereign countries and its decisions are binding and cannot be appealed.
Curiously, of the 11 pending cases at the ICJ, six of them are territorial disputes involving Latin American nations.
The most notable of these is the Bolivian complaint against Chile requesting an outlet to the sea, which was filed in 2013. Bolivia lost its Pacific port in a 19th century war with Chile and has unsuccesfully attempted to negotiate access with Chile ever since.
Lima, Santiago call for calm
Legal skirmishes aside, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala have promised to respect the ICJ’s decision and have called for calm ahead of today’s announcement, although they have not sought to minimize the importance of the decision.
Humala, a Peruvian nationalist, has not incurred in anti-Chilean rhetoric and has asked the press to not inflame any passions regardless of the result and to act as a unified front.
For his part, Piñera’s Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick has moved to categorically deny rumours that the Chilean armed forces were on alert ready in their barracks.
Much more than national pride is at stake: if Peru’s complaint is supported by the Court, the Peruvian fishing industry stands to gain about US$200 million in additional earnings, according to Richard Inurritegui, director of the Peruvian National Fisheries Society.
By the same token, thousands of Chilean fishermen would lose their source of income if they can no longer exploit the contested area, with the corresponding effects for thousands of people employed in the fish-processing industry.
Industry organizations have said they wouldn’t make any comments until after the ICJ’s decision has been announced.
Despite the impending decision and the signficant consequences that it will entail, the border towns of Arica in Chile and Tacna in Peru are calm.
Arica and Tacna benefit immensely from trade between the two countries, which has seen an increase to US$4.3 billion from US$500 million in 2006 following a bilateral trade deal.
Nonetheless, Peru’s Interior Minister Waltar Albán announced earlier this week that police reinforcements have been sent to Tacna to prevent any disruptions that the decision could provoke, whether positive or negative for Peru. The minister went on to advise that the security measures were coordinated with the Chilean police.
For his part, Chadwick, Chile’s Interior Minister, will be in Arica when the ICJ releases its decision to act as support for the local community.
Bishops in Chile and Peru have issued joint declarations ahead of tomorrow’s outcome calling for uniity.
Herald with AP, Télam