Old wounds were reopened between Chile and Argentina this week: a long-time border dispute in the nations’ southern Patagonia regions.
The dispute is over 100 miles of contested land known as the Southern Icefields, which contain the second largest reserve of potable water in the world. The area was only one of two left with undetermined status during the demarcation of 24 disputed borders in 1990, and now remains the only contested area. Discussion regarding the land began again in 2006, when Argentina began creating maps to demarcate the icefields.
The debate’s resurgence was triggered by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announcement of the completion of the maps in September 2009. This prompted concerns within the Chilean government because of discrepancies between Chilean and Argentine maps.
While all signs point to trouble, members of Chile’s government have assured the public that the issue will be taken care of calmly.
“There is not a conflict,” said president of the Chilean Senate Jorge Pizarro. “There is a procedure that is being carried forward and is agreed on by both countries. It is a technical process that requires time and must be addressed jointly.”
Despite these reassurances, the Chilean Senate’s External Relations Committee called a hearing Wednesday to address the issue. During the meeting, the committee assessed the information coming out of Argentina to see if there is a possible threat of an unfavourable estimate of the border. The government’s main concern is that the agreement would primarily acknowledge Argentine claims, as happened in a dispute settled by an international tribunal in 1994.
Regrettably for the Chilean government, this dispute comes on the heels of Peruvian demands for the settlement of a coastal land dispute that has been under debate since the Pacific War more than 100 years ago.
Mrs Kirchner and Peruvian President Alan García were seen discussing the matter at the recent Europe-Latin America and Caribbean Conference in Madrid. Some Chilean senators have expressed their opinions that the timing of two controversies is more than a mere coincidence.
“It seems that, in some countries, Chile has changed into a scapegoat for local political problems,” said Senator Hernán Larraín. “But we are not going to fall into that game.”
For the time being, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has not announced his policy on the two disputes. He has simply said that the government will be working to resolve them quickly.
“We are working on these two issues in a reasonable way, with evidence based in international law and international treaties, and with the willingness to solve these problems,” Piñera told media recently.
By Lindsay Fendt – Santiago Times