LIMA, Peru — The United Nations’ highest court set a maritime boundary between Chile and Peru on Monday that grants Peruvians a bigger piece of the Pacific Ocean while keeping rich coastal fishing grounds in the hands of Chilean industry.
Despite high emotions over the dispute, especially in Peru, the ruling is expected to have little effect on cordial ties between the two neighbors whose economic interdependence has grown greatly in recent years.
Chile’s outgoing president, Sebastian Pinera, called the International Court of Justice’s ruling “a lamentable loss” in a nationally televised address. But President-elect Michelle Bachelet, who takes office in March, said that “most of the fishing occurs inside the area that the court ratified as belonging to our country.”
Peru’s leader, Ollanta Humala, told his countrymen on national TV that he was satisfied with the outcome, saying the court had recognized Peru’s argument that no maritime treaty previously existed between the South American neighbors.
Peruvian patriots might crow, but commercial Chilean fishing fleets appeared to be the biggest beneficiaries, analysts said.
In Chile’s northern port of Arica, police dispersed a group of small-time fishermen with water cannon after some, considering themselves losers, hurled stones at a military barracks.
“Only the rich are profiting from this,” said Eduardo Ferreira, a street vendor who sells paintings on the main square of Chile’s capital, Santiago, where police had to break up a few heated arguments between Chileans and Peruvians.
The ruling announced in a European courtroom ends a decades-old dispute centered on nearly 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of the world’s richest fishing grounds — the value of the area’s annual catch has been estimated at $200 million.
Peruvian historian Nelson Manrique called the ruling an “intelligent verdict” that is “not going to please anyone but it’s also not going to bring anyone to fits.”
The case filed by Peru in 2008 was a matter of national pride for Peruvians, some of whom maintain rancor over the 1879-83 War of the Pacific in which Chile gained its three northernmost provinces by winning territory from Peru and Bolivia. Bolivia lost its coast in the conflict.
Humala, a retired army officer when he was elected Peru’s president, called Monday “one of the days that will mark my life, and I feel proud to have lived as a soldier and now as a politician. I feel prouder every day to be Peruvian.” The national anthem then played.
Peru had sought a sea border perpendicular to the coast, heading roughly southwest. Chile insisted the border extend parallel to the equator.
The court, whose rulings cannot be appealed, compromised by saying a border already existed parallel to the equator extending 80 nautical miles from the coast. From there, it drew a line southwest to where the countries’ 200-mile territorial waters end.
Patricia Majluf, a leading Peruvian fisheries scientist, said the area remaining in Chilean hands “is where the Chilean boats fish the most.”
“All the anchoveta is fished in that zone,” she said.
The species of anchovy is converted into fish meal for an insatiable global market that uses it in animal feed, fertilizer and fish oil pills. Peru is the world’s No. 1 exporter of fish meal and Chile is second as they share the world’s most productive fishing grounds, the cold Humboldt current,
Majluf said about 1 million tons of anchoveta are harvested annually off the northern Chile coast, about the same amount as off the southern Peruvian coast.
Peruvian economist Juan Carlos Sueiro said the verdict maintains the status quo in the anchovy industry, benefiting in particular Chile’s Grupo Angelini, while small-time Peruvian fishermen who catch shark, tuna and mahi-mahi farther offshore will also benefit.
The leader of small-time Peruvian fishermen in the region, David Patino, was not happy, however. “We haven’t won anything. We are in the same situation as the past,” he said.
Despite differences over fishing, the border area has been a model of coexistence. Citizens of both countries travel across it freely, with Chileans crowding into hospitals and clinics in Tacna, Arica’s sister city for cheaper health care. Peruvians work in construction and other day jobs on the Chilean side.
Peru and Chile have seen their annual trade grow from $500 million in 2006 to $4.3 billion today. Chilean government figures put Peruvian investment in Chile at $11 billion last year and Chilean investment in Peru at $13.5 billion.