Chilean military incursions into Peru?

On Feb. 28, Peru‘s government sent a protest note to Chile, claiming an unauthorized incursion by Chilean troops into its territory five days earlier. The Chilean soldiers reportedly entered the country while performing landmine-clearing work, after heavy rains shifted anti-personnel mines in the area. “The findings suggest the presence of Chilean troops in an area of Peruvian territory, between Milestone [Hito] No. 1 and the sea, carrying out signaling work of the land shift that reached the territory of Peru,” a government press statement said. This set off a flurry of press accounts of further such incursions over the next month, prompting that Foreign Ministry to release a statement March 26 denying any new incursions. The dispute comes as the International Court of Justice at The Hague has scheduled oral arguments in Peru’s case against Chile over their longtime maritime border dispute. (Peruvian Times, March 23; RPP, March 16; Peru This Week, Feb. 28)

Peru and Bolivia both lost territory to Chile in the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific—Bolivia losing its 400 kilometers of coastline, becoming landlocked. Bolivian President Evo Morales on March 24 told an audience in El Alto on the annual “Day of the Sea,” commemorating Bolivia’s historic claim of access to the ocean: “Chile cannot continue to be a bad neighbor in the 21st century.”

Morales said the Chilean government “pretends it has no pending case with Bolivia” and demonstrates a “dilatory and distracted” attitude. He also claimed their shared border is “strewn with land mines.” Bolivia plans to present a case against Chile at The Hague this year, seeking a judgment granting it access to the Pacific Ocean. (China Post, Taiwan, March 25)

A media frenzy in Peru was also sparked when the government cancelled a visit by a Royal Navy frigate as an act of solidarity with Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Falklands/Malvinas. HMS Montrose had been due to dock at El Callao naval base in mid-March. Perhaps indicating divisions within his government, President Ollanta Humala later played down the affair, saying, “There is no impasse, no problem in the diplomatic relations between Great Britain and Peru.” (AP, March 26; BBC News, March 20)

Chile was the only South American country to support Britain in the 1982 Falklands War—a fact recalled by Maggie Thatcher in her defense of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet when he faced legal charges in his final years. (BBC News, Oct. 22, 1998)

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