Peru’s army chief offers public apology for anti-Chilean comments caught on tape and posted on YouTube

Peru’s commander in chief, Gen. Edwin Donayre Gotzch, offered a public apology Thursday for anti-Chilean comments made during a military cocktail party, which caused a media frenzy in both Peru and Chile.

On Tuesday, an amateur-quality video emerged of Donayre making a jingoistic toast at a private military cocktail party to removing Chileans from Peru “in a box, or if there aren’t sufficient boxes available, then in plastic bags.” In the video, he is surrounded by other uniformed officials, their wives and other people in civilian dress.

“I’m sorry if my comments have caused unease in Chile and Peru,” said Donayre in a press conference held on Thursday. “I offer my sincere apologies.”

According to Donayre, his comments were taken out of context, and “have been the object of perverse, malicious and tendentious manipulation.”

“These comments were made in a colloquial tone,” added Donayre, “about a question concerning what Peruvians would do ahead of a hypothetical (Chilean) invasion (of Peru). I answered that we would defend ourselves to the best of our ability, perhaps like the Iraqis.”

“Back then, the (maritime dispute between Peru and Chile) was very controversial and was discussed in all kinds of reunions, and we certainly weren’t the exception,” said Donayre in comments to Radio Programas radio. “I think that people know me by now, and that my temperament, personality and character are secrets to no one.”

Donayre’s comments were made on the maritime border dispute with Chile that prompted Peru to seek arbitration from the International Court in The Hague.

Peru began proceedings against Chile over the dispute last January. According to the ICJ, the dispute is related to “the delimitation of the boundary between the maritime zones of the two States in the Pacific Ocean” and the recognition of “a maritime zone lying within 200 nautical miles of Peru’s coast.”

The dispute dates back to the 1879 – 1883 War of the Pacific, in which Peru and Bolivia lost substantial territory to Chile. Central to the row is 38,000 square kilometers, or about 14,500 square miles, of fishing-rich sea which Chile currently controls.

The maritime dispute has caused considerable tension in the past. In August 2007, Chile recalled its ambassador from Peru after the State-run newspaper, daily El Peruano, published an official map that indicated Peru’s control over the contentious area.

The video, posted on YouTube in February during the heat of the border issue, was placed on several blogs this week, 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.

On Tuesday Peru President Alan Garcia telephoned President Bachelet to offer his apologies and inform her that the government condemned and rejected the general’s unfortunate and reprehensible statements.

“(García) will retire (Donayre), he called me tonight during a meal I was having with the Mining Council,” Bachelet said in impromptu televised remarks as she left an official dinner.

“I found out about the incident after President Alan García called me, he told me what happened, and told me that it does not reflect the spirit or thinking of the government or the Peruvian people,” added Bachelet. “This satisfies me.”

Donayre also sent Chile’s commander in chief, Óscar Izurieta, an apology letter on Thursday.

“It’s a shame what happened,” said Izurieta, “And I want to say that (Donayre) sent me a letter in which he writes that he also regrets his declarations. I am going to stand by what the President of the Republic (of Chile) said: the incident is over and dealt with.”

Donayre, who is scheduled to step down December 5, has been the subject of an investigation in recent weeks 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. He has also been criticized for recent promotions within the army.

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.

Donayre’s posible sucesor is army Gen. Otto Guibovich. Guibovich earned a masters degree in Adminstration from Troy State University and another from the Maastricht School of Management.

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