Venezuela has no ties to ALBA Houses in Peru, ambassador says

Venezuela has no ties to the so-called ALBA Houses operating in Peru, said Venezuela’s ambassador, Armando Laguna, responding to a Peruvian congressional committee report that concluded that Venezuela and Bolivia engaged in ideological infiltration and meddled in Peruvian internal affairs.

“Venezuela has nothing to do with the ALBA Houses,” said Laguna, who denied any ideological or political meddling. “We don’t finance them, or help them. They have nothing to do with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.”

The report was issued this week in Lima by Congressman Walter Menchola, of Peru’s National Unity Party, and Chair of the special committee that investigated the Venezuela-funded Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or “ALBA houses”, which began to be established in several parts of Peru in 2004-2005. The report recommended that all ALBA Houses be shut down.

The centers, operating independently of any government-to-government agreement, concentrated in poor areas of southern Peru such as Puno, offering access to the free medical care program and to free eye surgery and transport to Venezuela, including free room and board during recovery. The success of the program lent political popularity during Peru’s 2006 presidential campaign to candidate Ollanta Humala and his Partido Nacionalista Peruano, openly supported by Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez.

Although President Chavez enjoys close relations with Ecuador and Bolivia, Peru has turned a cold shoulder to his oil-subsidized humanitarian programs, which Peruvian  believes are used to spread his influence across the region and win over the hearts and minds of Peruvians.

President Alan García’s administration has argued that the ALBA humanitarian and cultural centers in Peru are linked to the ALBA trade arm of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua, which oppose U.S.-style free trade agreements.

In March last year, Congress voted unanimously to investigate the functions, organization and financing of these cultural centers, whose activities have been viewed with increased suspicion in Peru since late 2007, when a congressional subcommittee questioned the Cuban, Nicaraguan, Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors about ALBA activities. Many of the lawmakers believe the centers are ideological fronts for a political group, the Continental Bolivarian Committee, funded and orchestrated by Chavez. They have accused Chavez of trying to meddle in Peru’s internal affairs and “ideologically infiltrate the country” to promote a regional revolution.

“Now Peru is the only country in all of Latin America that won’t be receiving any help from (Operation Miracle),” added Laguna, who questionned the validity of the congressional report.

Under the joint Cuba-Venezuela “Operation Miracle” agreement, patients from Venezuela and other Latin American nations are flown to Cuba and Venezuela for eye surgery and other major treatments. As part of the deal, Cuba sends medical personnel to Venezuela, which in turn sells a large daily quantity of crude oil to Cuba at preferential rates. The program has scheduled to perform eye operations for six million low-income Latin Americans by 2016.

Last September, Laguna announced that “Operation Miracle” had been suspended in Peru, after Peru allegedly refused to grant entry to a Venezuelan aircraft that was to transport 100 Peruvians to Venezuela for free ophthalmic surgery.

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