Earthquakes and borders

Now this is scary. Seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado and the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam are predicting that northern Chile is due for another major earthquake, which will be much worse than the previous one.  Last April Chile suffered a magnitude 8.2 earthquake northwest of the port city of Iquique, killing six people and causing economic damage estimated at around $100 million. But this was only a prelude to something more serious, though scientists are unable to predict when this will take place.

This “seismic hot spot” is caused by the shifting of two tectonic plates: the oceanic Nazca Plate is moving under the Pacific Plate along the South American continent’s Pacific coast. According to Scientific American, “much of that fault is currently fully locked in position, building up stress.”

This territory was once controlled by Peru and Bolivia, and won by Chile after the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Why go to war over an earthquake-prone desert with a coast vulnerable to tsunamis?  Mineral wealth is one reason; the region contains some of Chile’s biggest mines. Bolivia has never recovered from the loss of its sea outlet, and this has been a bitterly contentious issue ever since. Patricio Navia, writing in the Buenos Aires Herald, has this good backgrounder on the dispute:

And there are issues with Peru as well. The digital newspaper El Mostrador reports that Peruvian hackers managed to get into the Chilean air force’s computer network, extracting e mail correspondence with several U.S. and Israeli defense companies sent between February and May of last year. The newspaper quotes sources close to the Chilean air force as saying the e mail content is not a national security risk, while the hackers announced via Twitter that their actions were a “cybernetic revenge” for a similar attack by Chilean hackers five years ago. An investigation has been launched.


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