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Daytime soaps

Peru is starting to remind me of a character in a Latin American soap opera. A wife who has grown to hate her husband, Chile, after a near divorce (the 19th century war) followed by decades of perceived slights. She sits at home, stewing and seeing infidelities everywhere (accusations that Chile and Bolivia are making a secret deal, that Chile is preparing for war, that Chile is taking parts of the coastline). She frequently confronts him hysterically, and then they fight. This, of course, doesn't mean he isn't cheating.

If it were really a soap, Chile would obviously have planted spies in the Peruvian military, as the latter's government is alleging. The spy was apparently sending information south about an ongoing border dispute case in the International Court of Justice. As of last count, Peruvian officials were talking about six supposed spies, some of whom are already on the lam; Peruvian president Alan Garcia called Chile a tinpot republic; Chilean President Michelle Bachelet responded to these "offensive" and "pompous" statements with cool denials; in the meantime her minister of foreign relations assured Chile that "derogatory accusations" do not affect them.

As if all this weren't enough, as in any soap opera, there are ambiguous minor characters in both countries: the legislators in Chile who accuse Peru of orchestrating a hostile communication strategy, and the original alleged spy, Víctor Ariza, whose mother cries and threatens to cut off her hands.

The madness doesn't go as far as war, the Peruvian authorities are attempting to avoid accusing Bachelet herself of involvement, and most analysts agree trade relations should continue uninterrupted. It's part of what diplomats there call a two strands approach: political relations on one side, trade on the other.

As interesting as it is, the analysis is thin on what is really going on. There are many serious stakes in all this, after all. Can it really be chalked up to the long-standing rivalry between the two countries dating back to the 1883 War of the Pacific?

One article in an Argentine paper questions the timing of the story -- which broke when Garcia and Bachelet were at a summit together -- and points out that it serves as a distracting and unifying issue for Garcia, at a time when he faces unrest and unpopularity at home. His approval ratings are at 26 percent, dropping to 14 percent in many areas of the country.

In the next nail-biting episode: If Peru presents Chile with proof, how will Chile respond?

ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images

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