Fri, Aug 25, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Morales defends oil nationalization after minister censured

AP , LA PAZ

President Evo Morales forcefully defended the nationalization of Bolivia's petroleum industry only hours after the Senate voted to censure the nation's hydrocarbons minister over alleged "irregular" dealings by the state energy company.

"Nationalization will not stop," Morales said on Wednesday night, calling conservative legislators who voted to censure the minister in charge of the process, Andres Soliz, "traitors and murderers" who "won't allow politics to change in our country."

Opposition members of the Bolivian Senate also voted to open an investigation into the dealings of Jorge Alvarado, head state petroleum company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos, YPFB.

Senators from Morales' own party Movement Toward Socialism boycotted the session.

Soliz, the hydrocarbons minister, immediately submitted a letter of resignation, writing that the vote against him came from "those who wish that Bolivia would return to a state of semi-colonization by world powers allied with the oligarchies who have exploited our people for 500 years."

Appearing on national television in his trademark blue-and-red striped sweater, Morales passionately refused to accept Soliz' resignation, declaring "solidarity, support and respect" for "one of my best ministers."

Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, nationalized the oil and gas industry on May 1, seizing the property of foreign energy companies and giving them six months to cede operational control to YPFB or leave the country.

Earlier this month Bolivia announced that the "full effect" of nationalization would be suspended while YPFB underwent a complete reorganization and sought US$180 million in emergency financing.

Soliz was called before the Senate opposition leaders last week to answer questions on the slow progress of nationalization. The minister acknowledged that the process has lagged.

The Bolivian government admitted on Monday that Alvarado, who answers directly to Soliz, had violated the terms of nationalization by entering YPFB into contract with an independent export firm.

According to Morales' May 1 decree, the company is required to assume control of every stage of the production process.

However, critics say YPFB lacks the resources or technical know-how to manage Bolivia's natural gas reserves.

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