One of the more surprising outcomes of the Asia-Pacific summit meeting in Singapore this past week had nothing to do, as might have been expected, with Barack Obama or his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.
Instead, Peruvian President Alan Garcia raised tensions with neighboring Chile by choosing to complain publicly about an espionage case in which a Peruvian intelligence officer has been charged with sending military secrets to Chile.
Historically, relations between Chile and Peru have had their ups and downs (they’ve gone to war or have been on the brink more than once).
Recently, the countries have an ongoing disagreement about their maritime borders – a case that was brought to the International Court of Justice. Part of the disagreement is whether or not they have a dispute in the first place.
Peru filed the complaint at the world court, but Chile says it has no problem and accepts international treaties on the boundary. That’s a little like the confusion that came up after Garcia’s comments at the Asia-Pacific summit.
Peru has arrested a Peruvian Air Force intelligence officer, Victor Ariza, saying that Chile gave him a monthly stipend over the last five years for passing along military secrets.
Garcia raised the issue with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during the Singapore summit; Bachelet denied the spy charge and complained about Garcia having raised the issue in the first place.
The implication was that Peru wanted to embarrass Chile at the world meeting – especially since Ariza had been arrested two weeks earlier.
Garcia stormed out of Singapore a day earlier than planned, canceling meetings there, while Bachelet’s spokesperson declared “Chile doesn’t spy.” Garcia, for his part, has described the espionage case as “repugnant.”
Ordinarily, a good person to calm tempers and mediate would be the head of the Organization of American States. But the OAS secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza, is Chilean.
Insulza was in Santiago over the weekend, on the campaign trail with his friend Eduardo Frei, a candidate in Chile’s upcoming presidential election. In any case, it’s not clear that the Chilean government will be able to turn down the temperature on its own.
Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez reiterated Monday that his country was not conducting espionage against Peru. “Chile has nothing to do with this case,” he said, implying it was an internal Peruvian problem.
“We ask above all that the Peruvian authorities get to the bottom of this and stay calm so that the public can be told the truth about what has happened, as I say, among officials of the Peruvian Armed Forces.”
– Peter Eisner