The World Court’s new role: real estate broker.10:01 AM, Jan 28, 2014 • By JOHN LONDREGAN
The World Court resolution of Peru’s petition to change its border with Chile didn’t catch much attention beyond the Pacific coast of South America, but it matters, a lot. A century and a half ago la Guerra del Pacifico, in which Chile opposed both Bolivia and Peru, left Chile holding several hundred miles of coastal plane previously claimed by its opponents. Subsequently, in the 1929 Treaty of Lima, Peru conceded Arica to Chile, but got Tacna back. The marine border between the two countries, settled the following year, began at the coast, and extended due west at 18˚21′03′′, and there it stayed until this week.
In the meantime, conventions for setting maritime borders changed, and the current vogue amongst arbiters is to have frontiers radiate into the sea perpendicularly to the coastline. As it happens, the coast makes a sharp turn to the West just where the land borders of Chile and Peru meet. The line perpendicular to the coast veers off to the southwest, slicing off a considerable wedge of ocean, teeming with fish.
The Peruvians noticed that if their 1929 negotiation with Chile had been conducted under the auspices of a 2014 arbiter, they would have gotten a better deal—and so they filed suit in the World Court to do just that! To be sure, this is like a currency trader who bought British Sterling for dollars in 1929 at $4.86 per pound coming back today and demanding “back” his $3.19—the difference between the quondam price and today’s exchange rate of approximately $1.67 per pound. Well, you might point out, if the trader was any good at currency speculation he wouldn’t much mind the loss of $3.19, and Chile, having recently joined the OECD, is surely sufficiently successful that it’s prosperity will not crumble with the partial loss, for that is what has occurred, of its territorial waters. Yes, that is probably right, but currency markets would collapse in a hurry if it became generally known that past transactions could be revisited when prices change against one of the parties, which is to say, when prices change.
Yesterday the World Court “split the difference” between Chile and Peru, the Chileans got to keep their maritime border radiating due westward, for eighty nautical miles, after which time the court announced that it will now jink off in a southwesterly direction, perpendicular to a coastline eighty miles away. Peru enforces a two hundred mile fishing limit, and in return for their litigious challenge to the existing frontiers, its lawyers are returning from the Hague with title to quite a swathe of ocean that used to belong to the Chileans. It is worth noting that the resolution of the World Court applies neither the principle, such as it is, that the border should run perpendicular to the coast line, nor the common sense notion that settled frontiers should be left alone.
If you are a lawyer on retainer to the World Court, this is a fabulous precedent—every frontier in the world is now potentially subject to being re-litigated in the court, no boundary line on the planet is now exempt from a new roll of the judicial dice, all that’s needed are two litigants willing to accept the jurisdiction of the court rather than fight another battle. And if your neighbors have just bought a new battalion or two of tanks, who wouldn’t at least consider accepting jurisdiction? This creates a potential bonanza of litigation for experts on the abstruse subfield of international law that deals with the delineation of frontiers. This will be especially profitable if they can occasionally change the conventions about how to redraw borders—not too often mind you, once or twice a century should be enough to keep a full docket. The court’s decision also issues an invitation to reanimate international conflict over frontiers, and the countries involved may not always make the same calculation about whether to resort to the bar or the barrel of a gun.
Whatever minor extra efficiency may spring from rearranging borders using the latest legal theory, which to say the least was strangely applied in the latest settlement, the World Court didn’t simply transfer some fish from Chile to Peru—it marked a new role for the World Court: real estate broker. Peru has set the example, if you want to expand, you need only hire some clever lawyers to rehash the bloodsoaked history of territorial wars with your neighbors. Expect many more to follow suit.
John Londregan, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, is the author of Legislative Institutions and Ideology in Chile.
12:20 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Sometimes a handshake is more than just a handshake. When President Obama warmly embraced the late Hugo Chávez at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, he lent respectability to a brutal autocrat who had crippled Venezuelan democracy, terrorized his political opponents, and supported both the Iranian theocracy and the Colombian FARC. When then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hugged Ecuadorean leader Rafael Correa during a visit to Quito in 2010, she made Correa seem like a normal democratic president, rather than a thuggish Chávez acolyte who had persecuted independent journalists and gravely weakened his country’s public institutions.
7:05 AM, Nov 20, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Not so long ago, the fate of democracy in Central America was a prominent and deeply controversial issue in U.S. politics.
12:20 PM, Sep 11, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The White House today announced Música Latina, a concert featuring performers Natalie Cole, Lila Downs, Gloria Estefan, Raul Malo, Ricky Martin, Price Royce, Arturo Sandoval, Romeo Santos, Alejandro Sanz and Marco Antonio Solis. The event will take place at the White House next week on September 16.
9:25 AM, Aug 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
In late June, the State Department issued a controversial report on Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere. Its most notable conclusion was that “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” Critics immediately pointed out that, just a month earlier, Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman had released a 500-page report showing that Tehran has “clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents” scattered across the region. The obvious question was: Why hadn’t Foggy Bottom considered the Nisman dossier before publishing its recommendations?
10:46 AM, Jul 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
If you’re concerned that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism has been expanding its strategic footprint in the Western Hemisphere, the Obama administration has a reassuring message for you: “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” That’s the conclusion of a State Department report issued late last month. (The report itself is classified, but Foggy Bottom released an unclassified summary of its policy recommendations, from which the above quote is taken.)
8:26 AM, Jun 6, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Guatemala on Wednesday, reminisced about his first trip to Latin America as a U.S. senator back in 1985:
8:15 AM, Jun 5, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Socialists around the world have their own traditions for celebrating “International Workers’ Day,” and Evo Morales is no exception. Each year, the Bolivian leader uses May 1 to make a big announcement, typically regarding the military-backed seizure of a given industry or company. In 2006, during his first May Day as president, he nationalized his country’s enormous natural gas reserves. Since then, he has grabbed control of telecom companies, energy companies, and more. On May 1, 2012, he had Bolivian troops seize an electricity firm (owned by the Spanish multinational REE) that operates most of his nation’s power lines.
7:22 AM, May 28, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden is in Latin America meeting with foreign leaders. His first stop was in Colombia, where he landed yesterday and met with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.
The vice president was diplomatic. "We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve. And we look forward to the day when Colombia can fully enjoy a genuine peace dividend."
7:31 AM, May 9, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
During his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica last week, President Obama tried to highlight the positive and downplay the negative. Thus, he spoke at length about the growth of trade, commerce, and economic partnerships, arguing that security issues should not be allowed to dominate all discussions of U.S. policy in the region.
9:31 AM, Apr 23, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
During the 14-year reign of Hugo Chávez, Venezuelans became drearily accustomed to hearing so-called cadenas interrupt the regular programming on their radios and television sets. These are “chained” broadcasts (the word cadena means “chain”) that all stations must carry. They originated long before Chávez took power, mainly to help the Venezuelan government disseminate urgent information about a matter of national importance, such as a natural disaster. Under the so-called Bolivarian revolution, they were transformed into shameless propaganda vehicles.
9:50 AM, Mar 18, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
There are legitimate territorial disputes, and then there is Argentina’s dispute with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands.
10:25 PM, Mar 7, 2013 • By VANESSA NEUMANN
On Wednesday, the body of Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez, was transported through Caracas in a formal procession that drew a crowd of weeping millions, accustomed to calling him, among other epithets, "the Example of Permanent Battle," and "the Christ of Latin America's Poor."