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Case Number: 5

Case Identifier: PERUEC

Case Name: Peru Ecuador Border Dispute

By: Jeffrey Franco



1. Abstract

The Cordillera del Condor has been the site of armed disputes between the Peru and Ecuador for over one hundred and fifty years. Despite claims that the land is part of Ecuador, the area of confrontation is "recognized as Peruvian by the 1942 Rio Protocol, the 1945 arbitration decision, the 1947 U.S. Air Force aerial survey, and the documents issued after the 1981 border conflict."

2. Description

The common border between Ecuador and Peru has been the source of conflict for over the past 150 years, and the conflict re- ignited in January of 1995. The crisis began because of a poorly defined peace agreement between the two countries in 1942. The Rio Protocol, as it was called, took some 200,000 square kilometers of land from Ecuador and gave it to Peru. The poor description of the new frontier left come 100,00 square kilometers of the border unmarked when an unknown river appeared where the mountains were supposed to be. These rivers are the Santiago and Zamora and are located in the middle of the dense jungle between the two countries. As a result of the lack of clarity of the Rio Protocol, the two nations have been fighting on and off for the last fifty years, including two full scale wars and spasmodic frontier incidents.

The populations of Peru and Ecuador are accustomed to periodic threats and minor skirmishes on the Condor Cordillera (Financial Times, Jan. 1995). January 29, however, is the anniversary of the treaty signed in 1942 that gave almost half of Ecuador to Peru. Tensions always rise during this time, but in 1995 they hit a 14- year peak (New York Times, Feb., 1995). This time, however, clashes erupted. Ecuador's President Sixto Duran Ballen proclaimed a state of national emergency and called up the reserves. Peru responded by mobilizing thousands of troops and massing them in the border area of Timbles. Ecuadorian officials maintained that Peru was attacking territory that was under Ecuadorian control for decades and was outside the area of dispute (Ibid).

Ecuador's armed forces also accused the Peruvians of using CH-47 Chinook and Bell-212 helicopters, which they say were provided by the US to aid in Peruvian drug fighting efforts. Two Peruvian airlines suspended flights to Quito, the capital of Ecuador (The Commercial Appeal, Jan. 1995).

Each side accused the other of provoking the conflict and insisted it was a peace-seeking nation which is honor-bound to defend its sovereignty and national territory. The core of the dispute - dating back to the earliest independence period - lies in the exact position of the border.

Land squabbles have surrounded bilateral relations for more than 150 years. The disputes between Peru and Ecuador began during the time of the Incas when the Incas from Cuzco, Peru conquered the kingdom of Quito, Ecuador. In 1535, a mission was sent from Quito to mark the border with Peru. Ecuador claims that the first expeditions were dispatched from Quito and that the Jesuits from there set up the first missions. Peru argues that an expedition from Lima discovered the Amazon. In 1802, the Spanish crown gave title over the region to the viceroyalty of Lima, taking it from that of New Granada, which included modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The Ecuadorian historians have interpreted a subsequent ruling in 1819 as reversing that decision. The dispute has lasted for hundreds of years since.

The last major conflict was in 1941 when Peru invaded Ecuador. A ten-day war ensued, ending with a the signing of the so-called Rio de Janeiro Protocol, which defined the border between the two countries. Congresses of both Peru and Ecuador ratified the treaty and four countries - the US, Brazil, Chile and Argentina accepted the task of being its 'guarantors.'

Mapping the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border was completed in early 1947 by the US air force. Boundary markers were established along some 1600 km of frontier, but 78km in the Condor Cordillera stretch, east of the city Zamora, remained unmarked. This is where the dispute centered and is an area believed to be rich in gold, uranium, and oil deposits. (Financial Times, Jan. 1995).

Ecuador, in turn, argued that it was obliged to sign the protocol under pressure. Since 1950 it has dubbed the protocol as 'impossible to execute' and has laid claims to an area of around 130 square miles, in what, according to the Rio Protocol, was Peruvian territory. Over the last 150 years, Ecuador has seen its territory whittled away to the point where it is now the smallest country in the Andes. It also finds itself as a buffer country between the regions' two powers-Columbia and Peru. With fights over arable land an increasing problem, Ecuador today is South America's most densely populated nation (New York Times, Feb. 1995).

A cease fire was announced in the beginning of February only after border fighting claimed the lives of Ecuadorian and Peruvian soldiers (Reuters North American Wire, Mar., 1995). Observers from the four guarantor countries arrived at the disputed border region to make sure the cease fire was adhered to by both sides. The peace plan was signed on February 17, 1995 and committed both countries to withdraw their forces 'far' from the disputed zone (Latin American Newswire Mar., 1995).

Normalization of relations has been a slow process, but the tensions remain high. The two countries refused to engage in face-to-face talks over the border negotiations. Instead, the guarantor countries had to continue to act as intermediaries at every stage. The two, countries did, however, reestablish diplomatic ties (Latin American Newsletters Jul. 1995).

3. Duration: IN PROGRESS (1995-96)

The conflict started in January and ended in February of 1995. Although the undeclared war has ended, tensions remain between the two countries and the border remains, as it has for over 150 years, a source and potential for conflict.

4. Location

a. Continent: SOUTH AMERICA


c. Country: ECUADOR

5. Actors: PERU and ECUADOR

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: HABITAT

Both Ecuador and Peru would use the jungle area for agriculture, which would necessitate the clearing of the jungle. These lands, however, are not suitable for agricultural colonization, but only for hunting, gathering and fishing. A land clearance program would lead to the leaching of soil and potentially disastrous erosion in a very short time. The steep slopes and heavy rains all year round mean the land is already very unstable, even with forest cover (Ibid.). Plans to mine the gold and uranium as well as to drill for oil will result in the loss of this natural resource, not to mention the environmental damage.

The clearance of the jungle and the attempt to mine, drill, and cultivate the land will result in the disruption of the balance between plants and animals.

7. Type of Habitat: TROPICAL

The conflict between Ecuador and Peru is not over the environment, but the degradation of the environment has been an unfortunate byproduct of the violence between the two countries. Because the focus for both countries was the use of violence to acquire the disputed region, the environment was not considered. The goal was to win the war, not to save the biodiversity that was an innocent bystander in the conflict.

 Proposals have surfaced to create a peace park along the border. In Peru, the initiative is attracting a great deal of support from both businesses and politicians. Even President Fujimori claims to have been the first to propose joint eco-tourism and conservation ventures in the disputed zone as far back as 1992...In mid-February, as the conflict raged on the border, Arturo Woodman, president of the private business lobby Confiep, organized a summit of Peruvian and Ecuadorian business leaders during which the ideal of a demilitarized park was widely supported." However, the business group's proposal "does not envision the area remaining in a virgin state, but rather developed with both tourism infrastructure and jointly managed industrial projects such as mining or petroleum products extraction facilities."

Undefined borders between countries-------------->Likelihood of war between countries-------------->Potential for environmental degradation

8. Act and Harm Sites

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

Peru           Ecuador             Control of watershed area

 III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Interstate

The disputed border is rich in uranium, gold, and oil deposits, as well as a potential for other natural resources that have yet to be discovered in the dense jungle. In addition, Ecuador, has the most dense population in South America. The thought of losing even more land was an incentive for Ecuador to go to war over the border. Nevertheless, the disputed region is filled with virgin forests, deep ravines and 4,000 foot mountains...shrouded in fog, and said to be virtually impossible to know where one side's stated border begins or ends.

 There has been ecological damage done to this region of extraordinary biodiversity and extreme fragility. During 12 days of the most intense bombardments, an average of 720 projectiles were fired, damaging at least 72,000 square meters of land. Nothing will grow for at least ten years on the soil damaged by bombs (Latin American Newsletter Apr., 1995).

10. Level of Conflict: LOW

The Aguarana and Shuar groups of the Jibara peoples who live on both sides of the Ecuador-Peru border were ignored in the border war even though they were the traditional owners of the disputed land. The undeclared war occurred exclusively in an area in which 120 communities are located. The war had a serious impact on the local communities, and a reported 28 people were killed during the conflict.. None of the 28 people killed, however, were reported on the list of casualties, and their families have not received compensation like families of the soldiers and other dead (Inter Press Service Mar., 1995). Of the 350 Indian communities on the Ecuadorian side of the border, 20,000 people were directly affected by the fighting, 8000 of them were permanently displaced, their habitats destroyed (Latin American Newsletters Apr., 1995). Jungle Indians were used as scouts on both sides, and Ecuador was said to have a crack unit of Shuar jungle troops, who found themselves fighting against their own relatives on the other side. Human rights groups also reported that the Peruvian military was using the local inhabitants to probe minefields before launching assaults on Tiwintza and other Ecuadorian bases in the disputed area (Latin American Newsletter Apr., 1995)

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: about 20

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: DIRECT

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest: BILATERAL

14. Outcome of Dispute: STALEMATE

IV. Related Information and Sources

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    November, 1997