Global Insider: Chile-Peru Relations

Earlier this month, Peruvian and Chilean leaders agreed to consider resuming confidence-building measures in order to rein in mutual defense purchases. In an e-mail interview, Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, discusses Peru-Chile relations.

WPR: What is the current status of bilateral relations between Peru and Chile?

Farnsworth: Both countries have a lot to gain by working together and serving as models for others in the region. Strong democratic governance, growing economies, free trade agreements with the United States and a growing relationship with Asia-Pacific nations has positioned both Peru and Chile to play an important role in regional affairs.

Having said that, the bilateral relationship is sometimes rocky. A contested maritime border was protested by Peru at The Hague last year. Arms purchases by both nations have attracted attention. The events surrounding former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s extradition proceedings from Chile complicated relations. And of course recent accusations of spying have created tensions.

Both countries’ presidents are attempting to look forward, though, having met in late-May to work through difficulties and expand bilateral ties. Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera — having just been elected and working to rebuild after the earthquake — does not need tensions with Peru to complicate his life. At the same time, Peruvians go to the polls in 2011, and they have important issues to decide that have nothing to do with Chile.

By and large, if the leaders and people of both countries understand that they stand to gain much more through cooperation and collaboration than through conflict, including in energy relations, the inevitable periods of difficulty in the bilateral relationship can be overcome and priority can be given to building the better future that both leaders recently discussed.

WPR: What does the proposed confidence-building agreement aim to achieve?

Farnsworth: Confidence-building agreements are just that — by starting small, working together on issues of more-limited consequence, issues of increasingly higher stakes can be addressed over time as each party gains increasing confidence in the intentions and transparency of the other. For Peru and Chile, that means measures to integrate economies, track arms purchases, exchange military and civilian officials, and share additional information. Others can also be considered. The trick is to begin small, and continue to build, but not to allow the process to stall out or regress. Momentum will be maintained if both leaders and their governments remain supportive.

WPR: What are some of the obstacles that need to be resolved reach a deal?

Farnsworth: One of the primary issues between the two countries remains the maritime border, which will need to be resolved fairly and amicably. These issues are tricky, however, and could take some time to work through. The issue needs to be addressed by way of a process insulated from nationalist passions in either country, particularly during election campaigns. With that process in place, leaders of goodwill can move ahead effectively with the rest of the bilateral agenda.