Valdes Confident Peru Can Mend Relations With Britain

Cabinet Chief Oscar Valdes said Thursday that he is sure Peru and Great Britain will be able to overcome a diplomatic rift caused by the Andean country’s last minute cancellation of a visit to the port of Callao this week of Britain’s HMS Montrose, a navy frigate that has been in the South Atlantic and the Falkland Islands.

Valdes said that at the moment it was a “delicate issue.”

“It is a concern that relations with a friendly country like the United Kingdom could have this glitch,” daily El Comercio reported Valdes as saying. “We regret this unfortunate incident and we hope it can be overcome.”

The frigate was set to arrive at Callao later this month as “part of a routine deployment in the region,” the British embassy in Lima said.

“This was agreed as an act of friendship and cooperation between Peru and the UK,” the embassy said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Rafael Roncagliolo said the sudden decision to revoke the invitation was taken to show solidarity with Argentina, which has a long-standing dispute with Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

The British Ambassador to Lima, James Darius, said in a statement on Thursday that his government has been “let down” by Peru’s decision.

“This has been perceived by the people of the United Kingdom as an unfriendly gesture,” the Embassy said. The cancellation of the visit is “particularly unfortunate given the solid ties between Peru and the United Kingdom,” it added.

Private British investment in Peru is the second largest after Spain, including in mining, banking and insurance for more than $4.37 billion.

Also, Peru has several defense contracts with Britain, and the Peruvian Navy has just ordered five  Griffon 2000TD hovercrafts from Griffon Hoverworks, which will be used for river patrols to combat drug trafficking in the VRAE area with two Griffon vessels purchased in 2009. 

British navy ships visit Peru every year during the course of their routine deployments, a British Embassy spokesman told the Peruvian Times.

However, what has changed this year is that early in February, President Humala sent a note to President Cristina Hernandez to express Peru’s support in Argentina’s request that its neighbours refuse port entry to “ships flying the Falklands flag.”

Even so, a week later Humala’s cabinet sent the request to Congress, which was granted, for the routine arrival of a British Navy ship, this year the HMS Montrose.

Mounting pressure from Argentina over the past week led Peru to suddenly change its mind last weekend about welcoming the British ship, although nothing was mentioned during extensive meetings last Friday when Jeremy Brown, British minister of state for Latin America, was in Lima.

Britain, which explored and established settlements on the Falkland Islands from the mid-17th century —as did the French and the Dutch and later the Spanish— regained and controlled sovereignty over the islands since the mid-19th century, although Argentina has always considered them —the Islas Malvinas, from the French malouins— part of its territory.

In 1982, Argentina invaded the South Atlantic islands, which provoked a 74-day war with the UK that resulted in Britain regaining control of the islands. Casualties included 250 British soldiers and 650 Argentine soldiers dead, and the sinking of the HMS Sheffield and the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano. Both nations restored relations in 1989 but the agreement left the sovereignty dispute aside.

Diplomatic tensions between Argentina and Britain have increased recently as the 30th anniversary of the war nears.

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