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Latin America Abeja Dispatch


The Piece Treaty: Trading Part of Peru for Peace

Last week peace accords were signed resolving the border conflict between Peru and Ecuador, a "war" which has been going on since 1941. WHAT?! The Odyssey is in a country that has been at war?! Don't tell our parents, okay? They worry too much as it is.

But, don't you worry, either. This war wasn't as violent and destructive as the war in Yugoslavia, and the actual fighting only flared up sporadically. The last time the armies fought was in 1995, when less than 100 soldiers died between the two sides in what is known as the war of Cenepa. I'm not saying that this is a "good" war, but it pales in comparison the civil war in Guatemala that we learned so much about that caused about 200,000 deaths.

One of the most fascinating parts about this conflict, for me, has been how the different newspapers have been treating it. Peru has a wide variety of newspapers, all claiming honest, objective journalism. But, when you compare them, the biases of the seemingly "unbiased" newspapers become apparent. For example, today, the more leftist paper "La Repúbica" talked about protests going on in Loreto, and about different important people who are speaking out against the agreement. "El Sol," on the other hand, which is known to be "government-friendly," gave a history of the conflict, and suggested that Fujimori and Mahaud be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

Quite a difference in views for straight, unbiased journalism, isn't it? It makes me wonder where my news has been coming from, and who decides which stories I hear.

In 1942, towards the end of the Second World War, a treaty was signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, giving Peru jurisdiction over its two northernmost provinces, Loreto and Amazona. These boundaries are the ones you'll see on all the maps, unless, of course, you bought the map in Ecuador. Despite the peace accords, Ecuador didn't recognize the new boundaries, and skirmishes repeatedly broke out, not to mention bad feelings on both sides.

Last week, President Fujimori of Peru and President Mahuad of Ecuador finally signed a peace treaty that is supposed to end this conflict forever. All week, the two governments have been placing border markers along the exact same border agreed upon in 1942, but Ecuador also gains some territory. One square kilometer to be exact. That's .39 square miles. Not exactly the huge chunk of land that you'd expect to be the result of years of conflict, is it? It seemed like a pretty good deal to me, one square kilometer in exchange for peace. So why are the people of Loreto (and the rest of Peru, too) in the streets protesting?

First of all, this square kilometer, situated 50 kilometers inside the border of Peru, in Tiwinza, Loreto, is a very strategic area for Ecuador. The treaty stipulates that no military structures will be built there, only commercial buildings like factories and warehouses. But that's the strategy. This land will become like a bit of Ecuador inside Peru - offering tax-free products to the surrounding area. Ecuador already has a weaker economy than Peru, and so its labor and products cost less. Now, this Amazon basin region of Peru, which is already more economically hard off than the rest of the country, will have to compete with cheaper, tax-free Ecuadorian products!

The two northern most provinces of Peru, Loreto and Amazona and the Maranon and Amazona rivers.
The treaty also includes building a road from Ecuador to its land in Tiwinza, as well as a fifty year lease on an additional 150 hectares (370 acres) of land, which will most likely be divided between a few different ports along the Marañón and Amazonas rivers. More important to Ecuador than the fact that the Peruvian markets will be opened to Ecuadorian goods, is the fact that Ecuador will now have access to the Amazonian river basin. Remember your geography? To the East of the Andes, all rivers flow eastwards, through Columbia and Brazil to the Amazon River, and out to the Atlantic Ocean. So, while this square kilometer may constitute a tiny amount of land, it ultimately gives Ecuador easy, duty-free access to important markets in South America as well as, essentially, a port on the Atlantic.

I was surprised at the amount of protest and anger from Peruvians I've seen and read about in the papers. For some people it is a matter of patriotism. It would be as if the US ceded a spot inside of Texas. People just don't like it, even people from Southern Peru, who will not really feel the economic effects the way the people of Loreto will. Ayda, one of the students from Madre de Dios who we're working with here in Cuzco, said, "The government can't just give away a piece of our country! It's not right, and the majority of Peruvians disagree with it. The Fujimori government just does whatever it wants."

My friend Angél, who also disagrees with these accords, pointed out that since its independence, Peru has ceded land to Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and now Ecuador. The most recent act was when the Fujimori government gave a small strip of the Pacific Coast to Bolivia, thereby giving that country access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia has been landlocked since the war of the Pacific in 1879 when Bolivia and Peru both lost territory to Chile.

I have only spoken to one Peruvian man who was positive about the accords. He is happy for peace. I know that others agree with the decision, because some of the newspapers have come out very much in favor of the agreements. Still, it seems that the majority of the people I ask don't like the agreement. I wonder what the Ecuadorians think?

Abeja

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