peter castle He has served six months as president of Peru with a new controversy. In an interview with CNN last week, Castillo admitted his willingness to deliver to Bolivia, if the Peruvians approve it in a referendum, part of the national territory so that the Bolivians can have access to the sea that they lost in the 19th century and that since then they yearn for so much.
The quick criticism from the opposition forced the government to correct Castillo, specifying that efforts to facilitate the use of Peruvian ports for Bolivian merchandise are one thing and another thing, prohibited by the Constitution, is handing over sovereign territory. The journalist who interviewed him, Fernando del Rincón, has
described Castillo’s words as “political suicide”.
Despite the fact that the coastline that Bolivia had since its independence was seized by Chile in the Pacific War (1879-1884), and that it is with that country that La Paz maintains its dispute and not with Peru, which was an ally of Bolivia in that war, Castillo had already defended in the past, before he ran for the presidency, that the solution to Bolivian aspirations could pass through a transfer of Lima.
Historically, the Peruvian and Bolivian indigenous populations have had a close relationship, due to the fact that they belonged to the Inca civilization, which was favored by communications throughout the Andes (Cuzco, the capital of the Incas, and the present-day Bolivian highlands were a unity, so that during the Spanish Empire Bolivia was known as Upper Peru; after their independence both countries tried several times to reunite in a federated entity). That explains the inclination of Castillo and his party Free Peru to Bolivia, attracted by the indigenism of former Bolivian president Evo Morales. In a political act there, before being a candidate for the presidency, Castillo defended the “sea for Bolivia” campaign.
By reminding Castillo of this in last week’s interview, CNN caught the president off guard and without much detail, he stated: “It’s an idea. Now we will get down and consult the people. What would happen if the Peruvians agree? I owe myself to the people and I would never do things that the people do not want. Castillo did not explicitly speak of giving Bolivia a corridor to the sea, but the context indicates that he was thinking of a cession of territory.
From Congress, the opposition quickly stepped out, noting that article 32 of the Constitution prohibits submitting international treaties in force to a referendum, such as the Border Rectification Treaty signed with Bolivia in 1909. For its part, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement placing any agreement with Bolivia in the transit facilities through Peru and access to Peruvian ports by Bolivian goods, without this, “under any circumstances, can be interpreted as an affectation of our sovereignty.”
Increasing use of the port of Ilo
In fact, Peru is already being a growing point of access to the sea for Bolivia, especially through the port of Ilo, without the need for any surrender of sovereignty as Castillo proposed.
The most direct outlet to the Pacific traditionally used by Bolivia has been the ports of northern Chile, given that, aware of having stayed with that territory after the War of the Pacific (part seized from Bolivia and part also from Peru), Chile was forced early on to compensate in some way for Bolivian commercial needs. Both in Arica, the Chilean port with the most Bolivian use, as well as in Antofagasta, Bolivia has terminals where it can carry out customs operations as a country, so that imports can then enter Bolivia without new procedures. This management corresponds to the Port Services Administration of Bolivia (ASPB), which also offers services for Atlantic trade flows in the river ports of Nueva Palmira (Uruguay), Rosario (Argentina) and Villeta (Paraguay).
The ASPB also has facilities in two Peruvian ports, in Matarani and Ilo, the latter being the one experiencing special development and increased use by Bolivian companies. To the investments made by the Peruvian Government in the port and in the Ilo access road, as part of the Interoceanic Route Brazil-Peru (a route that connects the Brazilian port of Santos with the Peruvian Pacific, avoiding Bolivia), was joined in recent years by the boycott promoted by La Paz towards the ports of Chile as a result of a new examination of the dispute between the two countries by the International Court of Justice.
After The Hague ruled in 2018 that Chile has no obligation to sit down to negotiate any exit to the sea for Bolivia, the Government of Evo Morales he wanted to penalize the commercial route through the Chilean port of Arica and promoted that of the Peruvian port of Ilo. Both are at a similar distance from La Paz (488 kilometers for the first and 512 for the second). Thus, from a volume of cargo linked to Bolivia (imports and exports) of practically zero in 2016 and 2017, the port of Ilo registered 21,915 tons in 2018 and 48,594 in 2019, according to ASPB reports. Although these figures are well below those of Arica (a port whose activity is due 75% to that contributed by Bolivia), Ilo is consolidated as the second Bolivian port option, with growing possibilities.
Six months without consolidation
The Bolivian issue has not been the only one to offer a negative image of Castillo in the celebration of his first six months in office. The resignation last week of the Minister of the Interior once again highlighted the limited consolidation of the authority of the president, who in half a year of government has already required two prime ministers and has made up to ten changes of ministers with respect to the initially appointed Executive. The confrontation with the leadership of his own party and his indecision or apparent lack of clarity of objectives are weighing down his management.
Castillo’s main political objective, the reform of the Constitution, which the most Bolivarian left of his party intended to take advantage of, is still formally on the table at the moment and the president has not specified what changes he would like to promote. For its part, the opposition has had Congress approve that any constitutional reform must be endorsed by the legislature, which would remove any possibility of adventurism.