Peru-Chile tensions escalate

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, facing over 20 criminal charges in Peru, was arrested Nov. 7 by Chilean police following his surprise arrival in Santiago from Japan the previous day. The former leader said he was on the way to launch a campaign for the Peruvian presidential election next April. The arrest was ordered by Chilean Supreme Court Justice Orlando Alvarez upon the request of the Peruvian government. The two countries have not reached agreement on Fujimoli’s fate. Peru is pressing for extradition, while Chile’s government says its supreme court will have to rule in the matter. Fujimoli, born in Peru to Japanese immigrants and was president from 1990 to 2000, fled Peru in November 2000 after a corruption scandal toppled his government.

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos expressed his hope that the sensitive relations with Peru would not deteriorate. “Chile-Peru relations are already in crisis since Peru unilaterally established a law on maritime demarcation between the two countries recently,” Lagos told a news conference. “We hope Fujimori would not bring new factors to worsen the relations.” (Xinhua, Nov. 8)

The arrest came days after Peru’s President Alejandro Toledo signed a law that redraws the sea border with Chile. The bill, approved by Peru’s Congress unanimously Nov. 3, grants Peru 37,900 sq km (14,600 sq miles) of fishing waters in the Pacific Ocean. Chile currently controls the area, and says the law violates treaties signed in the 1950s. It has launched a diplomatic campaign against the move.

Members of Congress in Lima, say the new law will lay the groundwork for the country to negotiate a new sea border. “We are not seeking any sort of confrontation here, nor do we want to separate ourselves from the peaceful and respectful line of international law,” Congressman Pedro Morales was quoted as saying by the AP news agency.

The legislation uses a technical formula established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Peruvian officials say. The current border, set in the 1950s, is a horizontal line that starts close to the edge of the nations and cuts west across the Pacific. Peru’s proposed solution is a south-western sloping line that follows the two countries’ diagonal border into the ocean.

Top Chilean officials assailed the new policy as illegal. President Ricardo Lagos had earlier said Santiago “will continue to exercise full sovereignty” over the area. Peru and Chile have a history of border disputes dating back to the 19th century. In the 1879-83 War of the Pacific, Chile won both Bolivia’s outlet to the sea and extensive areas from Peru. In recent months, relations have deteriorated over allegations that Chile supplied arms to Ecuador during a 1995 war with Peru— claims that the Chilean government has denied. In May, Peru suspended free-trade talks and confidence-building measures with Chile. Peru also refused to support Chile to lead the Organization of American States. (BBC, Nov. 4)

See our last report on Peru. The legacy of the War of the Pacific is also a key issue in Bolivia’s “Gas War.”