Peru fears Bolivian camps harbor rebels; aid projects called camouflage
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Bolivia’s leftist government has established dozens of outposts in the high Andes region of Peru, which Peruvian officials fear have become centers of revolutionary training that threaten to revive Marxist-inspired insurgencies that terrorized the nation for decades.
Some are located in public buildings; others operate out of private homes. Hernan Fuentes, the governor of Peru’s Puno province, openly supports the centers, claiming they are part of an anti-poverty effort to channel aid for local humanitarian projects.
Most centers feature large iconic images of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is using his nation’s windfall from surging oil prices to fund what he calls a “Bolivarian” revolution throughout Latin America.
The centers are known as “ALBA houses,” named after Mr. Chavez’s Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, a socialist trading bloc founded by Mr. Chavez as an alternative to U.S.-backed freetrade efforts.
“They are beachheads for ideological indoctrination of people of low incomes, driving the message that their situation has not improved despite recent economic growth,” says Peruvian Defense Minister Antero Florez.
The Peruvian Congress recently ordered an investigation into charges that the offices are being used to foment political unrest and finance a resurgence of extreme leftist groups that recently blockaded the town of Cuzco during violent anti-government protests.
“What are the photos of Chavez doing in the ALBA centers?” asks Peruvian Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo.
“Some authorities in Puno want to mortgage out Peru to a foreign power,” the prime minister said recently, an apparent reference to Bolivia and Venezuela, both of which are headed by vocal antiAmerican presidents.
Evo Morales, visiting the United Nations Monday for a forum on the rights of indigenous peoples, brushed aside charges by the Peruvian government.
“If the president of Peru is saying that those forces are destabilizing, maybe they do destabilize empires, not people,” Mr. Morales told reporters. “What we are looking for in Latin America, what is being born now, are liberating democracies.”
Peruvian President Alan Garcia recently accused Bolivia of encouraging an “indigenous uprising” in Peru.
Peru has had a traumatic past with left-wing guerrillas. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Maoist Shining Path and the Cuban-inspired Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement killed foreigners, attacked foreign embassies, robbed banks and set off massive car bombs.
They made vast areas of Peru, including areas where the ALBA houses are being established, offlimits to foreign visitors and government officials.
By the late 1990s, top leaders of both groups had either been captured or killed and the remnants of both movements had become largely dormant.
Peruvian officials claim up to 200 ALBA houses operate in the southeaster n border region. Others sympathetic to the effort put the number at 20, while saying that the number is rapidly growing.
Juna Carlos Yuli, a Peruvian supporter of Bolivia’s ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, calls charges by Peruvian officials “grossly exaggerated.”
He also calls statements by Peruvian officials that they are centers of subversion “untrue,” adding that the charges stem from personal rivalry between Peru’s Mr. Garcia with Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez.
“Garcia is the only friend [President] Bush has left in the region. He is trying to help him contain the Chavez tsunami,” Mr. Yuli said during one of his frequent trips across the border to Bolivia.
Peru’s southern highlands have a predominantly Aymara Indian population, and the region voted overwhelmingly for Chavezbacked candidate Ollanta Humala in 2006 presidential elections.
The region bordering Bolivia is known for the ancient Inca shrines in its main cities of Puno and Cuzco.
It was also a base for Shining Path and Tupac Amaru insurgents during the guerrilla struggles in the 1980s and 1990s, in which tens of thousands of people died.
The Peruvian magazine Caretas recently published photographs of individuals it claimed were connected with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement at a Bolivian military installation.
The group is best known for its 1996 seizure of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima during a diplomatic reception. It held 72 hostages for more than four months until a raid by Peruvian commandos freed the captives and killed all 14 guerrillas inside.
U.N. correspondent Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from New York.