Sebastian Pinera Echenique, President of the Republic of Chile, speaks at the 65th United Nations General Assembly in the UN building in New York City on September 23, 2010. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo
BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Chilean anger over Argentina's decision to grant asylum to a guerrilla fighter wanted in Chile deteriorated into a diplomatic row as President Sebastian Pinera called off regular consultations, a move interpreted as a freeze on bilateral ties.
Pinera had been urging Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner to extradite Sergio Galvarino Apablaza Guerra, who faces charges he killed a Chilean senator and kidnapped the son of the owner of conservative newspaper El Mercurio. The incidents took place in 1991 after Chile returned to democracy under the first democratically elected president, Patricio Aylwin.
Argentina argues it is protecting Apablaza under its human rights laws but Chile counters the move is politically motivated.
Analysts said the simmering feud between Chile and Argentina introduced tensions where both sides seemed to be enjoying friendly relations.
The row has already sparked a war of words, with critics calling Fernandez untrustworthy and her Foreign Minister Hector Timerman lacking in human and intellectual attributes.
The two countries are partners in several regional organizations, including the Mercosur trade bloc.
Timerman retorted by calling Chilean pronouncements "nonsense and an embarrassment."
Chilean Sen. Andres Chadwick Pinera, a cousin of President Sebastian Pinera, mocked Timerman for trying to "explain something that has no explanation to begin with. How do you explain granting political asylum to a person accused of being involved in two serious crimes?" he wondered. "I feel sorry for him."
Chadwick Pinera said the Argentine government decided to grant Apablaza asylum because it feared his extradition would trigger a fierce backlash from human rights activists and affect the outcome of elections next year.
Chilean critics say the decision appeared to have the stamp of Cristina Fernandez and her senior aides rather than Timerman, who became foreign minister in June.
Chadwick Pinera said he regretted that relations between the countries had come to a stop because of the dispute.
"It is all over," said Chadwick Pinera, "trusting the Argentine government, its president, the Kirchner couple, is going to be most difficult."
Former President Nestor Kirchner, secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations, is seen by analysts as influential in his wife's decision-making process.
Chilean newspaper La Tercera said the Argentine government in a 36-page defense of the asylum granted Apablaza argued imputations against him "should not be considered as terrorist acts as they had no international consequences."
The Chilean tabloid said Sebastian Pinera's government was considering other measures in retaliation for Argentina's refusal to extradite Apablaza.
Apablaza was a member of the defunct Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front and is accused of killing right-wing Sen. Jaime Guzman and kidnapping Cristian Edwards del Rio, son of El Mercurio's owner.
The government decision to give political asylum to the former guerrilla member bypassed an extradition order the Argentine Supreme Court had endorsed.