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Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Bolivia completes oil and gas nationalization program

AP , LA PAZ

Bolivian President Evo Morales completed his oil and gas nationalization plan early yesterday with the eleventh-hour signing of contracts allowing Petrobras, Repsol YPF and other international petroleum companies to continue operating in Bolivia under state control.

Just after a midnight Saturday deadline to wrap up the nationalization talks, Morales joined representatives of eight foreign companies for a signing ceremony in the capital La Paz, marking the achievement of one of his nine-month-old administration's key goals.

Inking new deals with the Bolivian government were two separate affiliates of Petrobras, Repsol YPF, British Gas Bolivia Corporation, Andina, Chaco, Matpetrol and Pluspetrol. The French company Total SA and the US-based Vintage Petroleum signed nationalization deals on Friday.

Morales nationalized the country's oil and gas industry on May 1. His decree gave foreign companies 180 days to sign new deals ceding majority control of their Bolivian operations or leave the country.

Yesterday, Morales said the petroleum nationalization would be only the first step in his campaign to recover control of Bolivia's natural resources.

"Bolivia will not be as it was before, a beggar state with many social problems," Morales said. "We will continue in this path of recovering our natural resources, not only the hydrocarbons but also the minerals and the non-metallics, and all non-renewable natural resources that belong to the Bolivian people."

Earlier this month Morales announced plans to bring Bolivia's mines under state control.

The president also commended the international companies for becoming "partners" with Bolivia.

"As we have said before, we are looking for good partners," the president said. "We need partners to help us resolve the social problems of our country."

Brazilian state energy giant Petrobras is Bolivia's largest single foreign investor and the largest player in its natural gas industry, and its long-running and often contentious talks with Morales' government was crucial to the nationalization process.

Yesterday, with the tensions of the negotiations in the past, Morales spoke warmly of Bolivia's biggest neighbor.

"As Bolivians we recognize that Brazil is the leader of the region, and that's why its businesses are so important to our country," he said. "We are obligated to live with Brazil in a marriage without divorce, because we both need each other."

Morales on Saturday said that nationalization would provide Bolivia some US$1 billion in revenues this year but in four years' time could produce as much as US$4 billion annually.

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