Chile, Peru await ruling on old maritime dispute

Agence France-Presse

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Peruvian historian Nelson Manrique said that whatever the court decides, the ruling should allow for "closing a chapter in the history of our two countries"

LIMA, Pero – Peru and Chile could turn the page on a historic maritime dispute dating back to the 19th century when the International Court of Justice issues a ruling Monday, January 27. 

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has said that, after 6 years of legal wrangling, the neighbors “will close the longest and most delicate chapter of our diplomatic relations.”

He said his country would respect the decision of the court in the Hague, which is the United Nations’ highest tribunal.

Chile’s conservative president, Sebastian Pinera, who will yield to socialist Michelle Bachelet on March 11, said he, too, will apply whatever decision comes out of the Hague “in accord with Peru.”

Peru filed suit in January 2008 claiming sovereignty over a 38,000 square-kilometer fisheries-rich patch of the Pacific controled by Chile, as well as a 27,000 square kilometers that Santiago classifies as part of the high seas.

Peruvian historian Nelson Manrique said that whatever the court decides, the ruling should allow for “closing a chapter in the history of our two countries.”

“One must view this decision in the framework of the Pacific war (1879-1883) and the wounds that it inflicted,” he told AFP.

Chile – which agreed to go to court only reluctantly – won the war, which redefined the borders of Peru and Bolivia.

To wit: Peru lost 25 percent of its territory and Bolivia lost access to the sea. Lima was occupied by Chilean troops for nearly four years.

“The path of the 21st century”

A ruling in favor of Peru would affect the economic interests of Chile in particularly its rich fishing grounds.

In an attempted show of national unity, Humala has summoned senior political figures, two former presidents, regional leaders and representatives of civil society to hear the court sentence at the presidential palace.

It will be televised live on Monday at 9:00 am (14H00 GMT).

For Lima “the symbolic recovery of a piece of the sea would help turn the page on one of the saddest chapters” of the Peruvian republic, said Peruvian historian Carmen McEvoy.

“What Peru would recover is its confidence, its self-esteem. It would be possible to view an old adversary as an equal in order to undertake together the path of the 21st century”, she said.

Chilean historian Sergio Gonzalez said his country “cannot be saddled by these diplomatic disputes we have carried with us since the 19th century.”

He told AFP: “The two countries must use the ICJ decision as an opportunity for integration, for common projects and the strengthening of the Pacific Alliance”

The four countries of this alliance – Colombia, Chile, Peru and Mexico – account for 35 percent of Latin America’s GDP and account for 50 percent of Latin America’s trade with the rest of the world.

Peru has called on its people to remain calm. Still, Peruvian flags have begun to flutter in Lima and other towns as they await the ruling from the Hague.

While former president Alan Garcia has called on Peruvians to hoist the national flag at their homes, Foreign Minister Eda Rivas has appealed to them “not to make gestures that could be misconstrued” by their neighbor to the south.

“The rivalry with Chile in inevitable and will go on to some extent because it is also cultural and linked to folklore,” said Nelson Manrique.

And whatever decision comes out of the Hague, the back-and forth-between Chileans and Peruvians over the geographical origin of the grape brandy known as pisco or even the lowly potato may go on for some time. –

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