Chile And Peru: An Old Border Dispute Threatens A Vibrant Economic Alliance

Troubled waters
Troubled waters


SANTIAGO - After presenting their closing arguments, Peru and Chile are now awaiting the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on a maritime border dispute dating back to the 1980s. While the verdict is not expected for several months, how both countries respond to the ruling when it is released could prove decisive for the future of international justice in Latin America.

The dispute is based on 37,500 square kilometers of sea located near the border between the two countries: The area was under Peruvian control from the foundation of Peru until 1879 when, as a consequence of the War of the Pacific, it passed into Chilean hands where it has remained for the last 130 years.

Maritime claims of Peru and Ecuador - Political Geography Now

While the tribunal deliberates, both Chile and Peru have been looking for clues to the outcome and they have found plenty in a decision made by the same tribunal on Nov. 19, when the ICJ ruled on a similar dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua. The two countries were vying for sovereignty of the San Andrés islands – a group of seven small islands in the Caribbean that have been under Colombian control for over one hundred years. The ICJ allowed Colombia to maintain its sovereignty of the islands, but also, and rather unexpectedly, awarded Nicaragua the area of sea stretching from the Central American coast to the group of islands.

The ruling from The Hague awarded something to both parties involved, in an attempt to be fair and just, but in Colombia the outcome was seen as a failure for the country and for Juan Manuel Santos’s government.

In response, the Colombian government rebelled against the court’s ruling. They decided to keep their ships in the waters that were awarded to Nicaragua and, a few days later, President Santos announced that Colombia would be withdrawing from the Pact of Bogotá, a treaty dating from 1948 in which the independent republics of America agreed to resolve all territorial disputes peacefully by appealing to the ICJ in The Hague.

Maintaining the peace in Latin America

The recent outcome of the Colombia-Nicaragua case has led both Chileans and Peruvians to believe that their own disagreement will receive a similar ruling. Until now, Chile was convinced that its position was legally very strong, but it now faces the potential loss of perhaps half of the contested waters. And although the ruling will not be announced for several months, accusatory fingers are already being pointed at the Chilean government.

The Colombian government made the mistake of not considering the possibility of an unfavorable ruling, and, surprised by the turn of events, was unable to react appropriately. Chile will not be taken by surprise in the same way, as a scenario in which Peru is awarded a portion of the sea area under consideration is already being considered.

But being prepared for such an outcome is not just highly advisable politically, it is also essential for the economy: Peru is the third highest receiver of Chilean foreign investment, with over $11,000 million invested since Dec. 2011, and the migration of Peruvian workers to Chile has been increasing steadily for the last 20 years. It is estimated that 160,000 Peruvians are now based across the border in neighboring Chile; and many of them send remittances back home.

Given the economic context, Chile needs to reconcile the current optimistic outlook regarding the ruling of The Hague with a more realistic vision of the probable outcome in order to manage public opinion. Excessive optimism would leave the government in a very uncomfortable position if the ICJ were to rule unfavorably, because the high level of economic and commercial integration between the two countries makes it unfeasible for Chile to react in the same way as Colombia.

Colombia’s reaction did not paint the country in a positive light: It initially agreed that the ICJ could rule on the case, only to then reject the verdict because it didn’t rule the way Colombia wanted. Chile must accept the ICJ’s ruling, whether it is favorable or not.

It is also important to maintain a sense of proportion. Colombia is no worse off simply because it lost control of the waters from the Central American coastline to the San Andrés islands, nor will Chile be any poorer if it loses 17,000 square kilometers of sea. A piece of sea of that size is worth significantly less than the economic opportunities currently available in both Peru and Chile -- thanks to the high level of economic and commercial integration.

Finally, one of Latin America’s biggest assets is the absence of serious wars and conflicts between its countries. The decision of the Colombian government to reject the ICJ’s ruling and withdraw from the Pact of Bogotá represents a rejection of international justice and that is not a step in the right direction. Chile and Peru need to set an example and accept the ruling of the ICJ, regardless of what it decides.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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