Chile military exercises irritate Peru

Twenty military aircraft and some 450 military personnel from the United States, Argentina, Brazil and France arrived in the Atacama desert this week for a major joint military exercise hosted by the Chilean Air Force.  Observer nations are Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela, and perhaps Bolivia.

The operation, Salitre II –which includes Mirage 2000, F-15C and KC-135 aircraft and continues until October 30– is being held around Antofagasta, part of the expanse where saltpeter or nitrate fields were the cause of the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century, when Peru and Bolivia lost that territory to Chile. The scars of that war remain sensitive.

Although Chile has been careful to point out that the military operation story is fictitious, the scenario initially created for the war games was of an invasion by a neighboring country. Peru took offense, saying that the idea was a thinly veiled simulation of an invasion by Peru, and the U.S. intervened to convince the Chileans to make some adjustments to the story.

According to Peru’s minister of Foreign Affairs, José Antonio García-Belaunde, the military exercise is now based on the theme of two countries on an island with problems of internal politics. “That is the information that we have received and we salute this change, to avoid distrust or hurting sensibilities,” he said.

Relations between Peru and Chile have been deteriorating, caused by Chile’s recent decision to build up its arms purchases and the ongoing disagreement on the maritime border between both countries. Last year, Peru opened its case on the border at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Peru claims that the current maritime border is based on two agreements limited to fishery, and that there is no true international border governing sovereignty. Chile rejects the Peruvian claim, appealing to international recognition of the existing line (which is in parallel with the 1929 land boundary). At issue is approximately 14,633 square miles of Peruvian maritime territory. Chile has until 2010 to file its response to the Peruvian claim, and the ICJ could deliver a judgment by 2012.
Chile Peru map

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