Thu, May 04, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bolivia's gas seizure raises alarm

TAKEOVER The presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela will meet their Bolivian counterpart today to discuss international concern over the move


Bolivian military officers stand guard in front of an old gas station of the state-run Yaciminentos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos in the highland city of Patacamaya, some 100km south of La Paz, on Tuesday.


Bolivia defended on Tuesday the government seizure of its vast natural gas industry after the move triggered concerns among foreign investors and Latin American governments.

Brazil, a huge consumer of Bolivian gas, and Spain expressed worry, while the US said it was keeping an eye on the situation, one day after Bolivian President Evo Morales gave foreign gas and oil investors 180 days to renegotiate their contracts with Bolivia's state-owned oil and gas company.

The presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela planned to meet Morales today to discuss his government's takeover of Bolivia's gas operations, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said.

Morales, who sent troops to guard the nation's 56 oil and gas fields, sought to address international concerns on Tuesday by saying that no investments would be expropriated.

"There is no confiscation nor expropriation of company property," Morales told Telesur. "Their installations will continue to be their installations."

"This nationalization is of natural resources," he said.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said that the move would ensure that foreign gas companies operating in the country would no longer make what he called excessive profits.

"Before the decree, operating in Bolivia was like winning a lottery because their profits were abusive," Garcia Linera said on Bolivian TV.

Linera said new contracts were needed to make state-run Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) a money-maker.

Under the decree YPFB will become majority shareholder in reformed corporations.

Oil and Gas Minister Andres Soliz said fields operated normally on Tuesday, but under government supervision. That will continue, he said, "as long as there is no resistance from the oil and gas companies to comply with the nationalization decree."

During the transition period, 82 percent of profits will go to the Bolivian state and 18 percent to corporations.

Bolivia is South America's poorest nation but has the continent's second-largest natural gas reserves, after Venezuela. The country does not export oil.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva held an emergency meeting with ministers and Petrobras officials. His spokesman said he would consult with other South American leaders over the issue.

Brazil's state oil company Petrobras decried the move.

"This was simply a unilateral decision, made in an unfriendly way, which requires us to review very carefully the situation in Bolivia," Petrobras chairman Sergio Gabrielli said.

Brazil is the largest investor in Bolivian gas, and depends on the latter for 51 percent of its gas, some 26 million cubic meters daily.

Spain expressed "profound worry" about the move, while Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF, which has substantial investments in Bolivia, called it "worrying news".

Repsol accounted for 25.7 percent of Bolivian gas production through its subsidiary Andina prior to the seizure.

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