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From The Economist print edition

Peru and Chile

Refighting a war
May 5th 2005 | LIMA

Injuries, real and imagined

ALONG with colonial churches and mansions and pleasant parks and beaches, Lima has much urban squalor. It is, after all, the capital of a fairly poor country. But understandably enough, Peruvians were not amused when LAN-Peru, the country's biggest airline, recently aired an in-flight video made in 1997 promoting "adventure tourism". This showed filthy streets and ragged homeless people urinating in them. LAN's parent company is Chilean. The affair injected new heat into Peruvians' traditional animosity towards their southern neighbours.

The airline apologised and fired the managers responsible. That did not deter Peru's Congress from taking a hand. A congressional committee changed a transport bill to ban investments in ports and airports from "neighbouring countries with a Pacific coastline". President Alejandro Toledo's government called off a bilateral meeting of foreign and defence ministers, and backed away from plans for free-trade talks with Chile.

Officials also chose to rake up allegations by an Ecuadorean general that Chile had sold his country weapons during a border war with Peru in 1995. Chile responded that the sale was in 1994; the general later admitted he got his dates wrong. Even so, Peru wants a formal apology.

Chilean politicians dismiss all this as an attempt by Peru's unpopular president to distract attention from his woes. They note that Peru protested less vehemently when Argentina, its alleged ally, sold arms to Ecuador during the war. In 2003 the authorities shut down a Chilean-owned pasta factory built illegally in wetlands near Lima, but they have done nothing about two nearby American-owned factories. Similarly, two Chilean youths who sprayed graffiti on an Inca wall in Cusco spent six months in jail, whereas a Peruvian beer company which damaged Machu Picchu's stone sundial while filming a commercial got away with a small fine.

Chile's firms have invested in prominent businesses in Peru: department stores and petrol stations as well as the airline. To Peruvians, that rubs in their relative poverty. They cannot forget that much of Chile's mineral wealth comes from land that once belonged to them or to Bolivia, seized in the war of 1879-83. Chileans could show more sensitivity to this. But rather than gripe, Peruvians would do better to try to emulate Chile's success.

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