Peru keeps a watchful eye on Chávez
Peruvian President Alan García nods with a knowing smile when asked about Colombia's recent seizure of computer files that seem to show Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's active support for Colombia's FARC guerrillas. Something similar may be happening right here in Peru, he says.
García, a former leftist populist, told me in an interview in his office Friday that there are an estimated 200 pro-Chávez Casas del ALBA operating in Peru.
These ''homes'' are believed to be tied to the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas -- ALBA by its Spanish acronym -- a Chávez-led Latin American alliance to counter U.S. influence in the region.
The residences, mostly private homes with an ALBA sign on the front, have been described by Peruvian officials as meeting places for pro-Chávez radical leftist and coca-growers groups which in many cases have ties to armed rebel groups.
Ostensibly, they do charity work, including sending nearly 5,000 Peruvians for eye operations in Venezuela over the past year.
''There are a series of indications that the ALBA homes have ties to the Venezuelan government,'' García told me.
On Thursday, the Peruvian Congress unanimously voted to start an investigation into whether these pro-Chávez meeting points have ties with violent groups or ''another government that is interfering in our country's internal affairs.'' The congressional investigation will review government intelligence information, and will have 90 days to produce a report.
Asked what will happen if the congressional probe finds that the ALBA homes are actively supported by Chávez, García said, ``We will take the appropriate measures.''
''Like closing down the ALBA homes?'' I asked.
''Among other things,'' he replied. 'If it's proven that there is an embassy that is supporting them actively, [we will be telling it] `so-long.' ''
Venezuela denies any active support for the ALBA homes. Venezuela's ambassador to Peru, Armando Laguna, told the Peruvian daily El Comercio that ``the ALBA homes do not receive financing, ideological or political advice from us.''
But Peruvian officials say that Venezuela is funneling support for ALBA homes through Bolivia, Caracas' closest ally in the region.
Much of the support comes from a joint Venezuela-Cuba-Nicaragua embassy complex being completed in southern La Paz, Bolivia's capital, Peruvian officials say. The complex is also thought to house some Bolivian government offices.
The Peruvian officials believe the building, at 107-109 Costanerita Ave., in the Obraje neighborhood, has already become the headquarters for Chávez's revolutionary training and propaganda operations in the Andean region.
Among other things, the ''Bolivarian'' countries' regional headquarters has arranged for military training of young Indian people from southern Peru in Bolivia's military police academy, the officials say.
Asked about these reports, García said that he has heard about them, and that the La Paz-based embassy complex ``seems to be serving as a general Bolivarian headquarters.''
He added that there are indications that the Bolivarian headquarters may be supporting the ALBA homes in Peru, as part of a strategy to promote an Indian uprising in the region.
'There is talk that they want to create an `Aymara [Indian] nation', which would bring Bolivia, [southern] Peru and northern Chile together into one single nation,'' he said.
My opinion: After years of reports that he has been bankrolling the current presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and the defeated presidential candidate Ollanta Humala in Peru, Venezuela's narcissist-Leninist president has suddenly been caught red-handed several times in recent months.
First, a Miami-based Venezuelan businessman flying with a Venezuelan government delegation on an Argentine government plane was caught smuggling $800,000 into Argentina, and U.S. prosecutors are likely to release dozens of wiretappings at his trial allegedly showing that the money was destined for members of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's campaign.
Then, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe disclosed that documents found in the three laptop computers seized during Colombia's March 1 raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador show massive Chávez financial and political support for the Colombian rebels.
Now Peru's Congress is investigating the pro-Chávez ALBA homes, and the congressional probe may reveal ties between the Bolivarian embassy compound in Bolivia, the ALBA homes in Peru, and violent groups in Peru.
Peru's García is doing the right thing in going public with this: in effect, he is telling his Venezuelan counterpart, `Don't mess with us: We're watching you.'