Diplomatic ripple over Peruvian general’s YouTube toast to removing Chileans from the country in boxes or plastic bags

The glow from the APEC Summit success wore off quickly on Tuesday after a video emerged of Gen. Edwin Donayre, commander in chief of Peru’s Army, making a jingoistic toast at a military cocktail party to removing Chileans from Peru “in a box, or if there aren’t sufficient boxes available, then in plastic bags.”

While President Alan García telephoned President Bachelet to offer his apologies and inform her that Donayre is about to leave the army, the Minister of Foreign Affairs José Antonio García-Belaunde, immediately disavowed the “unfortunate statements,” which he said the government “rejects categorically.”

President Bachelet, who had private meetings in Lima with President García just this past weekend and with 20 other Asia-Pacific leaders for the APEC Summit, accepted García’s apologies.

Bachelet said García had called her “with an explanation, that General Donayre’s words do not represent the position of the government of Peru, and that General Donayre will be retired.”

In an amateur video shot during a private gathering of military officers and their wives, General Donayre made comments on the maritime border dispute with Chile that prompted Peru to seek arbitration from the International Court in The Hague. Donayre, a charasmatic darling of Peruvian media, states that “the Chilean who enters (Peru) won’t leave. He’ll leave in a box. And if there are not enough boxes available, they will leave in plastic bags.”

The video, posted on YouTube in February during the heat of the border issue, was placed on several blogs this week, including Úterodemarita, as well as several Peruvian newspaper Web sites.

Despite major investments in Peru by Chilean businesses, the relationship between both countries has remained sensitive since the War of the Pacific (1879-1881), when Peru lost territory on its south coast. The border issue flares up seasonally, many Peruvians harbor a deep suspicion of Chilean intentions, and the Peruvian military is acutely sensitive to any upgrading of Chilean military materiel.

Donayre, a flamboyant and controversial general, has been criticized for recent promotions within the army and is currently under investigation by the state attorney’s office for ordering excessive quantities of gasoline at his earlier posts in Arequipa and Ayacucho. Some 46 army officers have been called as witnesses in the investigation.

In Ayacucho a week ago, Donayre announced he would be stepping down from his post as commander in chief of the army on December 5. He is not yet due for retirement, but the investigations into the gasoline case had removed any chance of him becoming the head of chiefs of staff of the three armed forces.

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