But things have taken a bad turn since Peru accused Chile of espionage. Now, Peruvian President Alan Garcia has suspended meetings with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and broken off most diplomatic relations.
In Cusco, people are starting to discuss the outcome of a possible war with Chile.
Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez appears on the news frequently, denying that Chile is involved in any sort of espionage.
He is met with boos and groans every time he comes on the radio or television in a public place.
Chilean officials have suggested that the “spy” was only an excuse for Garcia to leave early and dramatically from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore and deal a blow to Chile’s reputation.
The spy, Peruvian Ariza Mendoza, was allegedly receiving between $5,000 and $8,000 per month to report national secrets and launder money from the Peruvian government.
Mendoza, petty officer in the Peruvian Air Force and intelligence expert, has unleashed a flurry of discontent in Peru. Mendoza also, incidentally, served in the Peruvian embassy in Santiago, Chile.
But why are things so bitter between the two countries? The animosity traces back to a border dispute also involving Bolivia after the War of the Pacific in the late 1800s.
Bolivia would still like its beach back from Chile, and Peru and Chile can’t seem to decide where their border should be. Just last year, the Peruvian government asked the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands to rule on maritime borders.
To make things worse, Chile staged a military exercise in the disputed border area in October, and things still haven’t had a chance to cool down.
But the higher political level is trumped by the unrest on the streets of the average citizen. With the media playing footage of the alleged spy again and again, it’s difficult to see someone circled in white and labeled a traitor while in an Air Force uniform.
Calls for execution have been common, and the media is hungry for interviews with anyone connected to Mendoza. His crying wife’s first interview was prime-time news.
Whatever the actual chances are for an armed conflict between the two countries, the people of Cusco seem ready for it.
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