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Ecuador Wades Into Chile-Peru Maritime Dispute

A recent treaty between Peru and Ecuador could complicate matters for Chile, which is involved in a drawn-out border dispute with authorities in Lima over Pacific water rights.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Fishermen in northern Chile, near the border with Peru


A historic maritime border between Chile and Peru that is currently before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague took a new turn last week when a third country, Ecuador, decided to demarcate its sea boundaries with the government in Lima.

Peru filed a formal complaint with the ICJ in 2008, demanding its southern neighbor drop its claim to 14,500 square miles of contested, fishing-rich Pacific water.

The dispute dates back to the 19th century War of the Pacific, which involved not only Chile and Peru, but also Bolivia. During the five-year conflict Bolivia – allied at the time with Peru – lost access to the ocean. Chile and Bolivia are currently engaged in their own border dispute. Bolivian President Evo Morales threatened in March to take the Chilean government to court if negotiations faltered.

Chile cites border accords signed in 1952 and 1954 between its government, Peru and Ecuador to claim that the maritime border matter was settled long ago. But Peruvian President Alan García says those early agreements were only drawn up to establish fishing boundaries and nothing else.

The dispute heightened last week when Peru announced that it signed a new agreement with President Rafael Correa of Ecuador. The deal reaffirms the Peru-Ecuador sea border as a straight horizontal line that runs parallel to the equator and stretches out from where the two countries meet. The new treaty also contains a controversial clause whereby Ecuador formally aggrees with Peru that the 1950s accords were fishing agreements – not a three-way border deal.

Peru is now hoping to use the agreement with Ecuador as a legal fodder to finally settle its dispute with Chile.

“Our theory has always been that Peru, Ecuador and Chile signed fishing agreements in 1952, but our Chilean friends have always said that these were maritime accords,” President García said last Thursday. “What does it mean 60 years later now that we have signed a maritime boundary agreement with Ecuador? It means that the agreement in 1952 wasn’t a maritime border accord.”

Chilean lawmaker Jorge Tarud, a member of the lower house foreign relations committee, says the deal with Ecuador has nothing to do with his government’s own dispute with Peru. “The judges at The Hague aren’t stupid. They know the history well, and this [treaty] won’t have any effect,” said Tarud.

In an interview Sunday with the Santiago daily La Tercera, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said that in signing the agreement with Ecuador, the Peruvian government accepted the way the boundaries were originally demarcated in the 1950s. In fact, it was only recently that Peru – after respecting those accords for decades – suddenly “began to ignore” them, according to Piñera. “President Correa told me that Ecuador’s position has not changed in any way.”

The justices in The Hague could issue a ruling by 2013, according to Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaunde. Chile is expected to file its answer to the Peruvian lawsuit in July.

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