Bolivian elected president Evo Morales said that the "gas business" with neighboring Argentina and Brazil will remain unchanged but "will no longer be a business among multinational companies, but rather between governments".
Mr. Morales the first indigenous Bolivian to be elected president with a landslide of over 50% votes – still to be confirmed by the Electoral Board – emphasized that "we accept investors as partners, not as owners of our resources".
Bolivia with an indigenous population of 80% and one of the poorest countries in South America has ample gas and oil resources, only second to Venezuela, but has been involved in an ongoing controversy, sometimes extremely violent, as to what extent international investors should participate in the exploitation of those resources.
Current legislation dating back ten years opened the oil and gas fields to transnational companies, which helped develop the industry, but political turmoil and unrest questioning foreign participation ended in rioting, road blockades and the ousting of several elected and caretaker presidents.
However Mr. Morales who has always been identified with the street protests and a radical speech has in the last months leading to the election sounded more conciliatory.
Furthermore his admiration for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, – which shocks Washington- , has turned to the more traditional influential neighbors of Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.
"The gas nationalization policy of my government does not mean expropriation or confiscation of assets from transnational companies. We need their technology, and we will pay for those services. My government will be focused on industrializing those natural resources," insisted Mr. Morales in his first statements.
Actually Brazil’s Petrobras and Spain-Argentine Repsol-YPF are the main investors in the Bolivian gas and oil industry, and are mainly government owned and managed companies. Besides, both countries are Bolivia’s main gas consumers.
Mr. Morales also made it a point to underline that among the first to congratulate him were Argentina’s president Kirchner and Brazil’s Lula da Silva.
"We’re going to have a close coordination with the governments of Mr. Kirchner, Lula and Chavez, but it’s also important to have relations with United States. However, most important is dignifying Latinamerica," underlined the elected President.
"We’re going to review gas prices and we want Argentina and Brazil, two brotherly countries to understand it. Let’s be honest: prices must be improved, they are too low".
But Petrobras officials anticipated no problems with the new Bolivian authorities.
"Brazil and Bolivia have a mutual interdependency. I don’t think we’ll have problems", said Ildo Sauer head of Gas and Energy Department in Petrobras.
A fourth of Bolivian gas production is pumped to Brazil, 30 million cubic metres per day, equivalent to 200.000 barrels of oil.
Bolivian gas in transported along the Santa Cruz-São Paulo pipeline, financed by Brazil, and supplying the main Brazilian industries.
"Bolivia has given a giant leap forward on electing Mr. Morales in a totally democratic environment and this can only anticipate good prospects for both countries," added Mr. Sauer, who nevertheless pointed out that "we’ll have to wait to January when Mr. Morales takes office".
Mercopress – www.mercopress.com