When not to paint the town red: teenagers' graffiti sparks spat between Chile and Peru

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The Independent US

It is the sort of adolescent stunt teenage tourists get away with the world over. On visiting the world-famous Inca capital of Cuzco, in Peru, two young Chileans, Eduardo Celima and Enzo Tambilledo, decided to leave their mark by spray-painting a few historic walls.

It is the sort of adolescent stunt teenage tourists get away with the world over. On visiting the world-famous Inca capital of Cuzco, in Peru, two young Chileans, Eduardo Celima and Enzo Tambilledo, decided to leave their mark by spray-painting a few historic walls.

What happened next has led to a diplomatic incident between Chile and Peru and a national debate in both countries on crime and punishment.

Caught almost immediately, Celima and Tambilledo, 19 and 20, were arrested for damage to Peruvian national heritage and have been in prison for more than month and a half. One was refused bail, the other told his family would have to raise $20,000 (£10,500). If convicted at their forthcoming trial, the men, who say they have been mistreated during their detention, face sentences of up to eight years.

Such harsh treatment of two pranksters has led, not for the first time, to an enormous row between the neighbouring countries. Chile has just lodged an official complaint. That followed a visit by a Chilean government representative last week to the prison in Cuzco where the youths are being held .

The Chilean Foreign Minister, Ignacio Walker, has also made an angry telephone call to the Peruvian authorities. But the citizens of the Inca town and other Peruvians have taken to the streets to show their support for the detentions, in what has become a cause célèbre.

Relations have been tense between Chile and Peru since the War of the Pacific in the 1880s, when Chile took the Peruvian southern province of Tarapacá. Although the two countries signed a treaty in 1929 to resolve their existing border disputes, problems resurfaced in 1979. Peruvians now refuse to recognise the terms of the 1929 treaty and the countries do not maintain full diplomatic relations.

Migrants between the two countries also claim to experience prejudice in the media and in the workplace. In 1989, more than 6,000 Peruvians provoked their Chilean neighbours by crossing the border into Chile to buy bread, which was then expensive in Peru. Even Augusto Pinochet, Chile's longtime dictator and president, was known to play on anti-Peruvian sentiment.

But for the time being, the main subject of debate is the fate of Eduardo Celima and Enzo Tambilledo. The boys' families say they have no hope of raising the bail. Even under the proposed terms of bail, they would not be allowed to leave Peru. The walls of Cuzco, a gateway to the nearby Machu Picchu archaeological site have, of course, been wiped clean.

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