The editor's corner

Peru and the Chilean bogeyman

By Nick Rosen

When large Peruvian industries need to drum up support, they often turn to anti-Chilean sentiment.

Peru and the Chilean bogeyman

Peru defeats Chile on Friday (Vidal Tarqui/ANDINA)

Most of Peru celebrated on Friday when the national soccer team won an important World Cup qualifier against arch-rival Chile. Yet in darkened living rooms around Lima, there must have been people sulking: a certain class of ad executive, public relations officer and political strategist, people who have used every Peruvian defeat to Chile, every feeling of fear towards Chile, every flare-up in the rivalry, to sell their clients’ agenda.

In 2011, before a Peru-Chile match in the Copa America, the National Society of Mining and Petroleum ran an ad starring former player and national team coach Juan Carlos Oblitas. Oblitas states, “My worst memory is when Chile eliminated us from the World Cup in 1997. That 4-0 still makes me angry. But Chile is not only beating us in football. In the world, Chile is in eighth place in attracting mining investment. Peru is in 48th place.” He then advocates decreasing the tax rate on mining companies in Peru so that they are lower than Chile\‘s.

The ad was panned for its cheap chauvinism, its cynicism, and the fact that the statistics used were highly questionable.

Nevertheless, the tactic has not faded away. This month, it is the National Fishing Society that has turned jingoistic.

The guild, which represents the biggest fishing companies in Peru, is angry at the government. The Ministry of Production has banned large fishing companies from catching anchovy within 10 miles of the Peruvian coast, only allowing artisanal fishermen to use the waters. The government has argued that the fishing giants, who turn almost all of their anchovy catch into fishmeal for export, have caused significant harm to the aquatic food chain by overexploiting the small fish.

Now, one could argue over the merits of this decision. But that’s not what the National Fishing Society is doing. It decided that its best tactic is to appeal to Peruvians’ antipathy and fear towards Chile to win the debate. The trade organization has argued that if Peruvian boats don’t catch those anchovy, they will swim to Chile, where Chilean boats will catch them.

A number of experts have stated that the claim is entirely without merits; in fact, the catch in northern Chile has decreased since the norm was enacted. Still, the fishing society keeps posing the question as one of Peru vs. Chile.

The argument has been parroted in the press by the National Fishing Society’s allies. Luis Giampietri, the controversial former admiral, legislator, vice president and head of Peru’s oceanographic institute, said that “If you let the fish go to Chile, they’re just going to take them.” Sports journalist Phillip Butters sounded an even scarier alarm, saying that president Ollanta Humala had “broken his sword and handed it over” to his Chilean counterpart, Sebastian Piñera.

Again, it’s cheap, it’s cynical and it’s of highly dubious veracity. But it’s a rhetorical technique that Peru’s largest corporations have decided is an effective way to manipulate the public.

Peruvians, of course, are not the only ones who have had to suffer through this kind of “bogeyman” marketing. In China, when the government needs support, it whips up fear of and anger towards the Japanese. In the United States, for decades, it was enough to mention the “Communist threat” to win any argument. More recently, the fear of terrorism has been used for similar purposes.

Still, it is my hope that as Peru grows, as it takes on a more central role in the region, and even as it wins some more soccer matches against Chile, this kind of marketing loses its appeal. Peru needs to act out of concern for what is best for its people, not out of some fear of Chile.

Yes, Chile once stole Arica. No, Chile is not going to steal Peru\‘s fish.