Bolivia Takes Control of Domestic Energy Industry

Bolivian President Evo Morales places the country's private energy industry under state control. Reclaiming ownership of Bolivia's natural resources, Morales said, is "a fundamental means for recovering our sovereignty."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Bolivia's President, Evo Morales, has nationalized the country's vast natural gas fields. He chose May Day to announce his long anticipated decision.

President EVO MORALES (President of Bolivia): (Through Translator) We came here on this historic day, an important day, to comply with the feelings, the proposals of the Bolivian people, which is the naturalization of the natural resources, the hydrocarbons. From this moment on, from this date on, all the hydrocarbons in the national territory are naturalized.

(Soundbite of applause)

MONTAGNE: Bolivia's President Morales speaking through a translator. He immediately ordered soldiers to occupy the fields. His decision fulfills a pledge he made last year during his successful campaign for president when he accused foreign companies of looting the country. He repeated that accusation in his takeover announcement yesterday.

Morales gave companies from Brazil, Spain, France and the U.S., six months to negotiate new contracts, providing Bolivia with far greater control over natural gas production.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America after Venezuela. And the Morales decision follows a trend by oil and gas-rich Latin American nations seeking a larger share of the profits from fossil fuel extractions, and exerting greater control over the energy sector.

Mark Weisbrot is with the Washington, D.C. Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Dr. MARK WEISBROT (Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research): This isn't just happening in Bolivia. This is in Ecuador, in Argentina, in Venezuela. You know, the world is changing quite rapidly in South America and, I would say, Latin America, generally; you're seeing a great diminishment of the power of the United States and foreign institutions.

YDSTIE: Bolivia does not play a major role in the international energy market. Most of its gas exports go to Brazil and Argentina. But foreign energy companies have invested some $3 billion in Bolivia's gas production facilities over the past decade. Brazil has been the largest investor. And it was quick to criticize the takeover decision.

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