Peru, Chile Recall Ambassadors Over Spy Claims

Foreign Relations and Defense-Feb 2015

Foreign Relations minister Gonzalo Gutierrez and Defense minister Pedro Cateriano in Congress.

The Ministers of Defense, Pedro Cateriano, and Foreign Relations, Gonzalo Gutierrez, are in Congress today to answer questions from the Congress’ permanent committee on the alleged sale of military information to Chile by three Navy warrant officers.

On the weekend, meanwhile, Peru and Chile recalled their respective ambassadors for consultation on the case.

This follows a meeting last week held by President Ollanta Humala with the leaders of the country’s political parties, and his administration’s note demanding that Chile undertake a “swift and in-depth investigation” into the espionage case.

“We will not accept unfriendly acts of this nature, and least all from countries with which we have been working and sharing in common areas such as Unasur, the Pacific Alliance, Apec, and the Transpacific accord,” Humala said.

Chile’s Foreign Relations minister, Heraldo Muñoz, said that Michelle Bachelet’s government wishes to maintain the current bilateral relationship. “Here, I believe, prudence is important, but prudence does not mean being submissive.”

“We will study this [diplomatic note] carefully… and will respond with serenity, with no harsh remarks, and certainly reiterating that Chile does not protect or carry out acts of espionage in other countries, and least of all in our own territory,” Muñoz said.

This was reiterated by Chile’s secretary general of government, Alvaro Elizalde, who said President Michelle Bachelet’s government “doesn’t accept or promote spying in other states or in its own territory.”

These diplomatic formalities are being observed after information of the case was leaked to the press in Lima, allegedly by the defense lawyer for the officers being charged, who in recent weeks had threatened to make the case public if the accused were not released.

But the case is not new. In fact, it has been developing since at least mid-2014, regarding information trading carried out before 2012.  The first officer, Alfredo Dominguez, was arrested in August 2014, followed by Johnny Philco in October and Alberto Gonzales in November, under suspicion of selling military secrets. Philco traveled six times to Chile between 2005 and 2011.  Philco has also allegedly sold information to fishing companies abroad, and travelled to Brazil and Argentina as well as Chile.  All three worked together in the intelligence area of the Navy.

They face charges of breach of trust, disobedience, and in the case of Philco, also treason. The men’s defense is based on their argument that they sold fisheries information to foreign fishing companies and that no military information was ever given.

Despite the fact that the final dispute between Chile and Peru on the maritime border was resolved by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in January last year, a ruling that was accepted by both countries, many Peruvians remain highly sensitive to allegations of Chile meddling in its domestic affairs. Despite their strong business and cultural ties, Chile and Peru have a long, tumultuous history, dating back to the 1870 War of the Pacific when Chilean forces sacked Lima and took a large swath of the country’s southern territory.

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