The 1995 Peruvian-Ecuadorian border conflict

Washington, D.C., February, 1995


I. The border incidents of 1995
II. The 1942 protocol of Rio de Janeiro
III. The Peruvian-Ecuadorian border dispute (1830-1942)
IV. Historical background

I. The border incidents of 1995

An Ecuadorian helicopter on January 26, 1995, bombed a Peruvian army guard post located well within Peruvian territory, four kilometers from the borderline with Ecuador.

The attack occurred as diplomatic steps were being taken to settle the bilateral tension provoked when Ecuadorian and Peruvian military patrols exchanged fire on January 9 and 11, 1995, in Peruvian territory near the headwaters of the Cenepa river, in a place called "Cueva de los Tallos" by the Ecuadorian armed forces.

This area is located in the eastern slopes of the "El Condor" mountain range (the Cordillera del Condor), near an undemarcated section of the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border established by the 1942 protocol of Rio de Janeiro (more commonly known as the Rio Protocol).

In accordance with the Rio protocol, the subsequent decision issued in 1945 by Brazilian arbitrator Braz Dias de Aguiar delimiting the area of the Cordillera del Condor, and the aerial photographic survey taken between 1943 and 1946 by the U.S. Air force, the eastern slopes of the Cordillera del Condor constitute Peruvian territory. Although the demarcation process still is pending along 78 kilometers of that range, Peru and Ecuador have in fact exercised their respective territorial possessions with the "Cordillera del Condor" serving as the effective borderline between both countries.

In order to solve the tension sparked in early January, and with a process of bilateral dialogue underway, fully supported by the Rio protocol guarantor countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States), the government of Peru issued on January 26 an official communiqui acknowledging and welcoming the Ecuadorian government's declaration of January 24, 1995, that explicitly recognized the validity ("vigencia") of the Rio protocol and that, by resorting to the protocol's own mechanisms for settlling issues, convened the ambassadors of the guarantor countries and requested their cooperation.

Encouraged by this positive Ecuadorian attitude, Peru welcomed that request and reiterated its full willingness to culminate the demarcation process based on the Rio protocol aiming to eliminate the tensions that peRiodically disturb the peaceful coexistence of both countries.

However, two hours later, on the eve of January 26 Ecuador carried out the aforementioned helicopter attack, and the Peruvian armed forces responded by taking the measures needed to defend the country's territorial integrity and to prevent further incursions of Ecuadorian patrols in the eastern slopes of the Cordillera del Condor. Following explicit instructions from the Peruvian national defense council, the military operations are taking place solely and exclusively in Peruvian territory.

On January 30 the guarantor countries --Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States-- in full compliance with their responsibilities derived from the Rio protocol, decided to meet on January 31 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, at high diplomatic level, and invited Ecuador and Peru to participate in the meeting.

The government of Peru accepted the invitation of the guarantor countries and instructed its vice-minister of foreign affairs To attend the meeting in Rio de Janeiro. The government of Ecuador also accepted the invitation.

After six days, the meeting ended when the guarantor countries signed a declaration which stated that, the parties, with the assistance of the guarantor countries, prepared a draft agreement that includes urgent measures to end the confrontations taking place, and to indicate further actions to arrive at a long-term solution of the pending issues in the undemarcated sector.

The draft contemplates, in the short term, a cease fire, the separation of forces, troop demobilization, and a demilitarization process along all the area of confrontation. Conversations between the parties to find a solution to pending questions were also foreseen. The draft agreement also stated that Ecuador and Peru would accept sending a mission of observers to the area of confrontation, to provide assistance to the parties in implementing the cease fire and its supervision.

The draft accord between the parties was submitted to the governments of Ecuador and Peru, whose representatives held permanent consultations with their capitals during the negotiations. The representative of Ecuador informed the guarantor countries on February 5 that the draft's review would still demand some time for studying. In contrast, the government of Peru accepted on February 5 the draft agreement reached to solve the conflict.

II. The 1942 protocol of Rio de Janeiro

On January 29, 1942, the ministers of foreign affairs of Ecuador and Peru signed a treaty in Rio de Janeiro (commonly referred to as the Rio Protocol) that put an end to boundary dispute which had lasted over one hundred years since 1830. The treaty was guaranteed by four american countries --Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States-- and it was approved by the congresses, as well as ratified by the executive branches, of the two contracting nations. The corresponding ratifications were solemnly exchanged in Petropolis, Brazil, in March 31, 1942.

The protocol of Rio de Janeiro established the Peruvian-Ecuadorian boundary on the basis of the status quo line agreed to six years earlier, by both countries in 1936, which essentially recognized each country's effective territorial possession at the time. Therefore, the Rio protocol did not grant to Peru any territory it did not own by virtue of its historical and legal titles, nor did it represent for Ecuador the loss of any territory it ever owned or effectively possessed heretofore.

What is the goal of the propaganda efforts of Ecuador?

Ecuadorian propaganda efforts seem to be inspired by the erroneous idea that if something is repeated frequently enough it is bound to be believed as true in the long run, disregarding how inaccurate, false, or absurd it may be. This reasoning on the part of Ecuador might be correct in the sense that perhaps it may be able to confuse some people into believing that the protocol of Rio de Janeiro reduced its territory and increased Peru's.

Confident that objective truth will eventually prevail, all that Peru demands is full compliance with the Rio Protocol. The fact that the treaty has been almost fully executed is not in doubt, for the joint Peruvian Ecuadorian border demarcation commission placed boundary markers along 1,600 kilometers (95%) of the borderline fixed by the protocol. Boundary markers remain to be placed along the stretch of 78 kilometers in the Cordillera del Condor. Peru wants to conclude the final demarcation as rapidly as possible. Peru cannot accept Ecuador's attempt to invalidate a pact that represents a geographical, historical, and juridical reality, executed in good faith by both countries along 95% of the boundary, with the cooperation of four american nations as guarantors, having thus committed themselves because they found the treaty a just and conclusive solution.

The Cordillera del Condor and the Braz Dias de Aguiar arbitration decision

After the protocol of Rio de Janeiro was ratified and entered into force, the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border demarcation commission was formed on June 2, 1942. It agreed that if doubts or disagreements arose during the demarcation process, the parties would submit their technical opinions to the protocol's guarantors.

In 1943 technical divergences of interpretation on the exact borderline that should follow along some specific border areas arose. To settle this matter, both countries requested the arbitration of the brazilian government which appointed Captain Braz Dias de Aguiar as arbiter. The decision of that officer stated that the border should be the Cordillera del Condor, which is the divortium aquarum of the rivers Zamora and Santiago.

The Peruvian-Ecuadorian border demarcation commission continued working until 1950 placing boundary markers along a total of 1,600 kilometers (95%) of border. Ecuador unilaterally decided in 1950 to suspend the demarcation of the border, leaving 78 kilometers of "El Condor" mountain range, in the area of the divortium aquarum of the Zamora and Santiago rivers, without boundary markers.

Ecuador states that the aforementioned divortium aquarum does not exist because the Cenepa river is between the Zamora and Santiago rivers. The Peruvian position is that the divortium aquarum is located north and west of the Cenepa river, in accordance to Cap. Dias de Aguiar's decision that delimited the border in the area. Also, aerial photographs of the U.S. Air force made between 1943 and 1946 support this assertion.

There are only 78 kilometers of border to be demarcated -between the boundary markers Cunhuime Sur and November 20th. Once this area is demarcated, the source of further tension between Ecuador and Peru would disappear.

The 1981 incident in the Cordillera del Condor one of the most serious problems in the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border was the incident of the Cordillera del Condor in 1981. That year Ecuadorian troops infiltrated Peruvian territory in the eastern slopes of the Cordillera del Condor and established three military garrisons. In order to confuse the international community they named the deepest point of incursion in Peruvian territory "Paquisha", which is the name of a Ecuadorian village located on the western side of the Cordillera del Condor. Peruvian troops repelled these incursions and renamed the Ecuadorian garrison "False Paquisha" to highlight the maneuver which was designed to present Ecuador as a victim instead of as the aggressor that had violated the border.

This situation was denounced by the Peruvian delegation at the foreign ministers' meeting of the O.A.S., on February 2, 1981. This meeting concluded with a resolution that announced the cease fire in the zone of conflict, and noted that both countries had accepted the visit of the commission of representatives from the guarantor countries to safeguard the observance of the cease fire and create conditions for peace between Peru and Ecuador.

As a result of the task carried out by the commission, with the assistance of military officers from Peru and Ecuador, Ecuador decided to place its forces at three geographical coordinates, which correspond to the western slopes of the Cordillera del Condor, and Peruvian forces, as always, stayed stationed on the eastern slopes of that cordillera. Once again it was thus confirmed that the line of summits of the Cordillera del Condor constitute the border between Peru and Ecuador in that area in accordance with the 1942 protocol of Rio de Janeiro and the 1945 decision by Brazilian arbitrator Dias de Aguiar.

III. The Peruvian-Ecuadorian border dispute (1830-1942)

Since 1960 successive governments of Ecuador have tried to nullify unilaterally the protocol of Rio de Janeiro, although more than 53 years have elapsed since is was signed. Peru upholds the intangibility of that treaty, and the guarantor countries fully support Peru's position, having ruled in a decision announced on december 7, 1960, that Ecuador acted illegally in attempting to repudiate the protocol, which in fact legally ended the Peruvian-Ecuadorian territorial dispute that had lasted from 1830 until 1942.

Ecuadorian claims over territories that historically and legally belong to Peru date back to Ecuador's independence in 1830, nine years after the independence of Peru in 1821. Ecuador claimed it had legal rights based on colonial titles over three Peruvian provinces: Tumbes in the coast, Jaen in the Andean mountains, and Maynas in the Amazonian region. However, with time, Ecuador's pretensions were reduced to the Amazonian province called Maynas in the Spanish colonial documents (Maynas currently is divided into four Peruvian departments: Loreto, Amazonas, Ucayali, and San Martin).

Throughout the Spanish colonial domination Naynas belonged to the viceroyalty of Peru, except for the period from 1739 until 1802 when it was returned to the Peruvian viceroyalty by a Spanish royal decree. Therefore, when in 1821 Peru gained its freedom from Spain and was constituted as an independent nation, Maynas formed part of its territory and its people pledged allegiance to the Peruvian republic, and vowed to uphold its constitution. Maynas has uninterruptedly elected representatives to Peru's congress and always has been inhabited by Peruvian people.

At the time of Peru's independence Ecuador did not exist as an independent state. The territory that now is Ecuador was part of the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada, and when that viceroyalty freed itself from spanish rule it became the country known as Gran Colombia, which included the territories that now are Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Present-day Ecuador remained joined to Gran Colombia until 1830, when it became an independent state. Ecuador became an independent nation with the 1830 constitution signed in the city of Riobamba by delegates from the departments of Guayaquil, Quito, and Azuay, without any representatives from the provinces of Maynas.

The territorial constitution of the states in South America

The territories of the independent states in South America were settled on the basis of two legal principles: the uti possidetis of 1810 and the free will of the people. The uti possidetis principle stated that the boundaries between the newly independent nations would follow the administrative limits existing during Spanish colonial rule in 1810, the year when the wars for independence begun in South America. The principle of the free will of the people states that near border zones the people themselves would choose to which country they belonged by the corresponding declaration of independence and constitution.

In 1810 Tumbes, Jaen, Maynas, and even Guayaquil belonged to the viceroyalty of Peru according to Spanish laws and jurisdiction at the time. Tumbes, Jaen, and Maynas swore Peru's declaration of independence in 1821 and sent delegates to Lima to participate in Peru's constituent assembly. The people of Guayaquil freely chose in 1822 to be incorporated to Gran Colombia, which was formed by present-day Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

According to Ecuador, the 1829 treaty between Peru and Gran Colombia (to which Ecuador was still united in 1829), and a supposedly complementary protocol, supported its claims on territory of Maynas that was owned by Peru. The fact is that the treaty did not set any precise boundary lines but stated that the boundaries would be "those of the old viceroyalties", including Peru's titles over Maynas.

Regarding the supposedly complementary protocol to the treaty, Peru has always maintained that it never existed. As a matter of fact the complementary protocol's original copy never has been exhibited by Ecuador. Oddly enough, Ecuador held its legal claim on the basis of a document that it never showed, an alledgedly binding international treaty that it any case, since it never has been seen, logically it never has been approved or ratified by neither Ecuador nor Peru.

The treaty of 1832

The governments of Peru and Ecuador signed, approved, and ratified a treaty in 1832 that established that while an bilateral agreement was reached on the specific boundaries, both countries would respect the existing ones at the time. This basically set the border on the basis of the 1810 uti possidetis.

The treaties of 1860 and 1890

In 1857 Ecuador conferred rights to British creditors, as a form of payment, over territories belonging to Peru. This Ecuadorian action of course led to a formal protest from Peru, and eventually to a brief military conflict which was solved by the treaty signed in 1860. In the agreement Ecuador recognized the Spanish royal decree of 1802 that reincorporated Maynas into the Peruvian viceroyalty, and it declared null its attempt to transfer Peruvian territories to British creditors. However, the 1860 treaty was not approved.

Direct bilateral negotiations led to the signing of a boundary treaty in 1890. The agreement defined a specific borderline for the Amazonian region. The treaty was approved by the congresses of Peru and Ecuador, but the modifications to the borderline introduced by the Peruvian congress led to the withdrawal of Ecuador's congressional approval.

Arbitration of the King of Spain

Peru and Ecuador signed an agreement in 1887 to settle the border dispute through arbitration by the king of spain. Both countries agreed in 1904 to renew the arbitration proceedings which had been stalled earlier. Unfortunately, months before the decision of the arbiter, based on the recommendations of the Spanish council of state, was expected to be issued in 1910, Ecuador announced its withdrawal from the process. It alleged that the arbiter was not impartial because the King's decision, although officially undisclosed, was adverse to the Ecuadorian claims. Consequently, the King of Spain resolved to abstain from issuing his decision, although the arbitration's documents confirmed Peru's right to Maynas, as well as to other land that Ecuador had claimed.

The 1924-1936 negotiations and the status quo line of 1936

Peru and Ecuador signed in 1924 an agreement to settle the dispute by an arbitration. Following bilateral conversations exploring the possibility of submitting the issue to a complete or partial arbitration, the Ecuadorian and Peruvian government signed in 1936 a agreement that established a status quo borderline based on the effective possession each country had at the time in the Amazonian region. The agreement also appointed national delegations to meet in Washington, D.C., to solve the dispute. Unfortunately, after two years of negotiations, they failed to reach a definitive border treaty.

The conflict of 1941

After a long record of ineffective maneuvering by Ecuador, during which Peru's position had been repeatedly confirmed by legal titles and continued possession of the territory claimed by Ecuador, the 1936 status quo line, agreed by both nations prior to the negotiations in washington, d.c, served as the only bilaterally recognized boundary in 1941.

Ecuador undertook in 1941 a violent campaign of provocation against Peru, evidently intended to create a state of tension. The rhetorical escalation led finally to an attack on Peruvian garrisons when Ecuadorian troops crossed the de facto line agreed in 1936. Initially Peruvian troops drove the Ecuadorian forces back to the status quo border, but after renewed and insistent Ecuadorian attacks in Peru's territory, Peruvian troops entered the Ecuadorian border province of el oro.

After a cease fire was agreed, bilateral negotiations to attain a definite border treaty were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, under the sponsorship of the rest of American states. The negotiations led to the protocol signed on January 29, 1942, which settled the Peruvian-Ecuadorian boundaries on the basis of the 1936 status quo line. The protocol of Rio de Janeiro was also signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States as guarantors. The Rio protocol was later approved and ratified by both Peru and Ecuador. The formal exchange of ratifications took place in March 31, 1942, in the city of Petropolis, Brazil.

IV. Historical background

The discovery of the Amazon river

Historical evidence indicates that the Inca empire attempted to penetrate into the Amazon region before the arrival of the Spaniards in Peru. The attempts seem to have met only with a mild degree of success because of the lack of societies in the Amazons similar to the ones existing in the andean region which commonly would form alliances, as well as the difficulties of the terrain. After the arrival of francisco pizarro and his troops to Peru in 1532, Spanish exploratory excursions towards the Amazon took place, starting in 1535, usually following the paths made by the Incas in the region.

In 1539 Francisco Pizarro organized a formal expedition into the Amazon region from Cuzco, Peru --the capital of the old Inca empire -, headed by his brother, Gonzalo Pizarro. It was Gonzalo Pizarro's lieutenant, Francisco de Orellana, the person who actually discovered the Amazon river on February 12, 1542. Historical sources, including the records of the council of Quito, at that time under Peruvian jurisdiction, agree that Cuzco was the place where the expedition was organized and from where it started, going through Quito on its way to the discovery of the Amazons. The expedition stopped at Quito to rest, collect some provisions, and gather an additional group of men, considerably smaller in number than the group that started from Cuzco, to continue exploring.

Ecuadorian sources tend to assert that Quito was the starting point of the expedition that led to the discovery of the Amazons river. However, since the territory that today is Ecuador was a province of the viceroyalty of Peru until 1739, in 1539 it was an administrative dependency of governor of Peru (Francisco Pizarro at the time). Therefore, expeditions could not be made an autonomous order or initiative of the lieutenant of Quito, who was appointed by Pizarro and subordinate to him. In conclusion, the discovery of the Amazon river was conceived, planned, carried out, and finally accomplished by an expedition that started from Cuzco, and was ordered by Francisco Pizarro, governor of Peru.

However, the most important fact is that no legal rights over land in the Amazon basin could logically be claimed by independent states based on expeditions made by spaniards in name of the spanish crown in 1539.

Conquest and development of the Amazonian region

After discovering the Amazon river, and the extent of the Amazonian basin itself, the spaniards started an uninterrupted effort to conquer and civilize the region by military expeditions to establish law and order; explorers and settlers, who developed economic activities; and religious missions that furnished religious education, sanitation, and health care. These efforts were fully supported by the viceroyalty of Peru, in colonial times, and by the Peruvian governments since 1821, that were interested in developing the Peruvian Amazonian region.

The region of Maynas was returned in 1802 to the viceroyalty of Peru because the Spanish envoy Francisco Requena, after thoroughly exploring the region during the last decades of xviii century, vehemently sustained that the area's development had been dramatically stalled since it was granted to the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada in 1739. The Spanish crown issued the royal decree of 1802, which returned Maynas to Lima's authority, based precisely on requena's arguments.

Centuries of continued efforts led to the control of the vast resources in the area, the exploitation of its enormous agricultural and mining possibilities, and the improvement of its means of communication and its social conditions. Moreover, Iquitos, located in the heartland of loreto (the present-day name of the colonial province of maynas), a port of great significance on the Amazon river banks, always has been a Peruvian city.

Summary and conclusions

1.- The military incidents in the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border in 1995 begun on January 26 when Ecuador attacked a Peruvian guard post located four kilometers from the borderline. The Peruvian military reaction is taking place solely in Peruvian territory, and it is aimed exclusively at forcing Ecuadorian troops back to Ecuador.

2.- Although Peru was the attacked party, the Peruvian government asked the Rio protocol guarantor countries to carry out negotiations to solve the crisis along the border. Unfortunately, these initial peace-seeking efforts failed on February 5 when the Ecuadorian government did not accept the cease fire agreement proposed by the guarantor countries and accepted by Peru.

3.- The area of confrontation is circunscribed to the Cenepa river's headwaters in the eastern slopes of the Codillera del Condor, an area that is recognized as Peruvian by the 1942 protocol, the 1945 arbitration decision, the 1947 U.S. Air Force aerial survey, and the documents issued after the 1981 border conflict.

4.- The Peruvian-Ecuadorian boundary was established by the 1942 Rio protocol. Both Peru and Ecuador placed boundary markers from 1942 to 1950 along 95% of the borderline. Ecuador unilaterally suspended the demarcation process leaving undemarcated 78 kilometers in the Cordillera del Condor. Peru has insisted since 1950 in culminating the demarcation process to avoid further border incidents.

5. The Rio protocol established the borders on the basis of the status quo line agreed by Peru and Ecuador in 1936, according to the effective territorial possession held by each country at the time. Therefore, Ecuador did not lose any territory by the 1942 protocol.

6.- Ecuador claimed since its independence in 1830 that it had legal rights over Peruvian territory north of the Amazon river. The Ecuadorian claim openly contradicts historical facts, legal documents dating from colonial times, and the uninterrupted effective Peruvian territorial possession in the area since 1821.

Posted to on Fri, 17 Feb 1995 by (lepruwash)