Latin America: The border conflict between the Peruvian and Chilean “Patriots”

The Peruvian and Chilean ruling elites have whipped up a border dispute in an attempt to try and divert the attention of the working class in both countries from problems they face in their own countries.

It is not an accident that they have done this when both Alan García, President of Peru, and Michelle Bachellet, President of Chile, are facing their deepest crisis and collapse in popular support since they were elected.

Faced with this situation Alan García has pulled from under the counter a border dispute with Chile, involving a historical claim for extended territorial waters off the Peruvian coast. This follows massive social mobilisations and protests in Peru which included mass strikes which had begun to seriously worry the capitalist class. As a result they were desperate to use something to try to distract the working class from these struggles to improve its living conditions.

Until recently, Alan García, together with Mexican President Calderón, have been presented as the new saviours of Latin American capitalism who were going to break the new "left wave" which is sweeping the continent. Yet very rapidly these new saviours of capitalism have been plunged into crisis in both countries. In Peru the recent mass mobilisations have terrified the ruling class.

Peru and Chile’s opportunism

The desperate position facing Alan García, pushed him to put a ring on the finger of the Chilean elite, the Concertación coalition government and the right-wing and allowed them all to dress in old clothes and whip up a form of chauvinism. They have done this to try to divert the attention of the Chilean working class away from struggles which were beginning to develop. Contracted forestry workers along with the copper workers at Codelco began these mobilisations. They have tried to develop struggles in other sectors where the workers face even worse conditions of low wages and appalling conditions.

The Peruvian and Chilean elite are trying to whip up national patriotism and pitch the working class of each country against each other. Yet both these elites have shown their "patriotism" by giving away the vast wealth of each country to the major transnational companies and the main imperialist powers. Both ruling classes have shown themselves to be totally servile in their attitude.

The right-wing and the Concertación have handed over the country to imperialism.

The "patriotic" Chilean ruling class has given the main resource of the country, copper, to the big trans-national corporations. This is despite the fact that even under the constitution of the military dictatorship this was not permitted. However, not content with this, they have proceeded to hand over electricity generation and distribution water supply, maritime resources, forests and all natural resources are now up for negotiation.

These same people that have sold the great part of the wealth of the country, for the price of an egg are today falsely presenting themselves as the great defenders of the country. This is not a joke in bad taste, it is the reality of what is now happening.

Chilean government attitude

The majority of the capitalist analysts agree that what Peru has done corresponds to its objective of taking the dispute to the international tribunal in The Hague. The protests made by the Chilean government also reflect that it is not prepared to accept the claim made by Peru. Yet the confrontational attitude and tone adopted by the Chilean government demonstrates that it is trying to use this as a policy in the same way that the Peruvian government is.

Chilean right has its "show"

Right-wing parliamentarians are claiming that the claims by García virtually put Chile in a warlike conflict. Sergio Romero (Renovación Nacional – extreme right party) was very clear and demanded that Michelle Bachelet suspend her next planned trip to Peru and did not rule out the possibility of "a warfare conflict". Clearly these people are attempting to gain a political advantage from this artificial conflict created out of the desperate position that the Peruvian government now finds itself in and the collapse of its support amongst the majority of the people.

The earthquake was more effective

If Alan García had waited for a week he would not have had to use the question of a border dispute to detract the attention of people from their struggles to build "national unity". The earthquake that took place in Peru has temporarily detracted peoples’ attention from the collapse in government support.

On the other hand it has been a big opportunity for the Chilean government, led by Bachelet, to show how "magnanimous" and generous they are by sending support and relief to the most damaged areas. This is all very well apart from one detail. There are numerous villages in the north of Chile which have been waiting years for government support to rebuild their communities following an earthquake some years ago. Then there is the case of the poor peasants in the south of the country who are still waiting for support to arrive to relieve the suffering caused by the loss of animals and resources in the last earthquake and then the freezing weather conditions which have hit the country in the last few weeks.

Cynicism has no frontiers

It is clear that the Chilean and Peruvian working class can put no confidence in the employers and the rich of either country. They are quite prepared to use whatever catastrophe in order to try and defend their own interests. They would also be prepared to undertake another bloodbath if this served their interests. We should remember that in the 19th century, they turned brother against brother to give the nitrate wealth of the country to British imperialism.

Ten years later following this brutal war, in the tremendous strike of the nitrate workers in 1907, in the Escuela Santa Maria in Iquique, thousands of workers were massacred by the Chilean army. Amongst them were Peruvian, Bolivian and Chilean workers. Amongst them were many former combatants in the war between Chile and Peru on both sides who only in 1907 understood that the real enemy were the employers in both countries.

Workers of all countries have only one real alternative. To end capitalism and build a democratic socialist society where the real criminals will not have the opportunity to manipulate and lead us to another bloodbath.

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August 2007