The War of Southern Aggression (aka the Great Anchove Dispute)

27 Jan

One of the surprising things we learned upon arrival in Peru is that they have a thing about Chile. In our first day in the country, a taxi driver in Lima explained the significance of many of the statues and plazas downtown. They are named after heroes in the War of the Pacific between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru in 1879-1883, in which Chile took some land from Peru and land and the sea from Bolivia (who knew?). Like other places we’ve lived where there was an important war in the mid-1800s, some of the people still, ahem, aren’t quite over it. It was clear that the taxi driver had a disdain for Chileans, and we’ve been really surprised at the frequency with which this subject has come up in our short time here.

So it was with mild interest that we tuned in with the others today at language school to watch the verdict in the case of the border dispute that Peru brought before the International Court of Justice. Unlike most border disputes involving minerals or other resources, this one is about fish. Peru argued that the maritime border should extend southward in a diagonal perpendicular to the coastline. Chile argued that the border should extend due west along the line of latitude. Chilean boats have been fishing for some time now based on the Chilean definition. At stake is the anchove harvest used mostly to produce fish meal for fertilizer. I had no idea anchoves were so desirable, but I suspect that fertilizer is as good a use for them as any.

At any rate, tensions were moderate here in southern Peru (about 300 miles from the Chilean border). Security was increased at the Chilean embassy in Tacna and the military was on alert. Both countries had pledged to abide by the treaty, but of course, Chile cannot be trusted. Peru, on the other hand, can be trusted… because (as one of our observant children pointed out) Peru has a tiny military. Thankfully, the verdict was a non-event. The court awarded Chile the waters up to the parallel extending out to 80 miles. This is, of course, where the best fishing is, and preserves the status quo. Peru now has control of the formerly international waters along a diagonal that begins 80 miles out, which isn’t much of a victory, but if you happen to be piloting your yacht in what used to be international waters near the border, be on the lookout for the Peruvian Navy. Yes, Peru has a navy, including a base on 12,500 ft Lake Titicaca. Bolivia, now a land-locked country, also has a naval base there. Hilarious.

As an aside, Peru is one of the few countries to have ports navigable from both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Ocean-going vessels from the Atlantic navigate 2,000 miles up the Amazon to the port city of Iquitos! This is in fact the best way to get a shipping container from the US to the Peruvian jungle region.

In our limited experience, the Peru / Chile rivalry is not unlike the American Yankee / Confederate rivalry today. Both countries have their pride, monuments, and jokes. Both name their streets, bridges, and plazas after the war heroes. Both speak the same language but complain about each other’s accents. And both have huge investments in the other (for example, one of the biggest department stores in Peru is Chilean-owned Saga Falabella). In reality, Peru and Chile are cooperating rivals today, having the two fastest-growing economies in South America. In addition, both are part of the Pacific Alliance, which will further economic development and ease of travel between the countries. As a relatively recent resident of the continent, I am more conscious than ever of the history and happenings of South America, and even a little bit excited.

One Response to “The War of Southern Aggression (aka the Great Anchove Dispute)”

  1. michael CHANDLER January 27, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    You can’t trust those Chileans! Pretty soon they will take all your fish! FYI your Grandpa Dean was an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy! Time for me to learn my Kentucky history since I, too, now live in the south.

    Love, Dad

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