Peru and the Chilean bogeyman

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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.

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

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