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The US House of Representatives approved the extension of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, despite demands by President George W. Bush that benefits to Bolivians be suspended.
The ATPDEA allows tax-free Bolivian exports into the US market. It is part of American incentives aimed at Andean nations cooperating in the war on drug trafficking.
Bush’s request to exclude any benefits to Bolivia came as a response to the expulsion of the US ambassador to La Paz, Philip Goldberg, at the summit of the institutional crisis, three weeks ago.
According to the local press, the benefits will be suspended regardless of the House approval. Sources from the US Embassy in La Paz said that the situation will not change unless the US president issues a resolution to the contrary. Faced with this imminent loss of economic benefits, the government headed by Evo Morales will probably intensify dialogue with Venezuela, Mexico and Brazil, which are all potential markets in the region.
The political presence of the French in Latin America is increasing considerably in the past years. Besides acting strongly in Brazil, where the French tries to sell jet fighters, submarines and helicopters (though possibly only the submarines and helicopters will be successful), they are now increasing the approximation with Venezuela.
Last week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of both countries (Bernard Kouchner for France and Nicolas Maduro for Venezuela) signed ten cooperation treaties. The focus areas are, as expected, energy, technology, military, industrial, telecommunications and combating narcotics.
As part of the deal, the French will invest in the oil, gas and infrastructure sectors. As announced weeks before the visit, nuclear technology will be shared between the two nations.
A intense conflict between people opposite to president Evo Morales and the police is occurring now.
The increase in the number of people contrary to Morale`s government is increasing by the minute. Many are contrary to the taxes applied to the exploration of gas and oil reserves which are not returned to the population.
The class has resulted in several wounded and one dead up to the moment. Also, the protesters were against the visit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez alongside the Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. Due to the incidents, both presidents just cancelled their visit to Bolivia.
The situation is deteriorating minute by minute. Sources confirmed that the opposition as well as the autonomy groups are seeing this protests as an opportunity to deepen their attacks against Morales.
Soon I will be receiving more information from one of the opposition leaders, and posting on this web blog.
Bolivian president Evo Morales has completed two years in power but has little to celebrate. Due to the deadlock in drafting the new Constitution, the nation is experiencing a political crisis that has split the country. On one side, Morales’s allies; on the other, his opponents who reject the new Magna Carta. Out of the nine departments, five have decreed autonomy from the central government. As a result, he ends his second year in office having to administer a climate of polarization. For many political analysts, you could have seen this scenario coming. In his first year, Morales nationalized the hydrocarbons industry, breaching contracts and scaring new investment away from Bolivia. With that decision, oil companies started operating as state subsidiaries. Despite this climate, his allies play the current government up. His party, the MAS (Movement towards Socialism), boasts that the country was not controlled by the market in the last two years.
However, Bolivians are still fully dependent on natural gas exports, even though they do not have the necessary oil exploration infrastructure – they rely on technical assistance from companies such as Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA. The government has announced that will honor the contracts concerning natural gas supply to Argentina and Brazil. According to the Brazilian ambassador in La Paz, Maurício Dorfler, the current output level is enough to ensure supply while meeting the domestic demand. Today, Bolivia supplies approximately 30 million cubic meters of natural gas to Petrobras on a daily basis.
Published in 2006
South America’s poorest country is back at the centre of attention in the region. Evo Morales’ historic electoral victory has signaled the onset of a government that combines indigenous nationalism and a typically Latin American left-wing populism. Bolivia has always been tightly dependent on foreign investments to compensate for its managerial ineptitude and an inability to take advantage of its own natural resources. This has fostered an influx of foreign capital which has contributed significantly to the maintenance of the country, albeit in a precarious fashion.
During Morales’ electoral campaign against Jorge Quiroga (former President and representative of the Santa Cruz business elite), the indigenous candidate, leader of coca farmers and head of the Movement Toward Socialism (“MAS”), based his agenda upon two pledges in order to secure the election.
The first was to nationalise the extraction process of Bolivian natural resources and “hand it back” to State control. This process includes natural gas and oil fields, mines, and plantations, especially of soybeans.
The second pledge was to retake the path to the Pacific Ocean, lost to Chile during the Pacific War at the end of the 19th Century. An ancient Bolivian dream, this access to the sea is the solution envisaged by Morales for Bolivia’s need to export to other countries swiftly and easily. Also worth bearing in mind is that Evo Morales’ electoral conquest was openly financed by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and made relatively transparent to the media based on Chávez’s addresses to Venezuelan newspapers.
The first electoral promise was put into effect with the occupation of natural gas fields operated by Petrobras, a Brazilian company which alone invested the equivalent of 18% of Bolivia’s GDP. The occupation, marked by nationalist speeches and actions, represented an enormous defeat for Brazilian foreign policy and an immense political conquest for Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez.
As his hand in the episode became widely known to both Latin American society and media, Chávez began to be recognised as the continent’s chief political strategist and the true regional “leader”, instead of “virtual leader” Luís Inácio Lula da Silva. Besides Petrobras’ operations, fields operated by YPF Repsol (Argentina-Spain), Total (France), and British Gas (UK) are also being targeted for Evo Morales’ nationalisation policy.
The decision of the Bolivian president may have the following impacts on Bolivia:
1. Impoverishing Bolivia’s economy, and consequently its population, due to the flight of capital backing up the internal economy;
2. Undermining foreign confidence in Bolivia during Morales’ government and any subsequent administration, in case an ideologically-aligned successor is elected;
3. Obsolescence of the technology employed in gas exploration due to lack of equipment maintenance;
4. Severance of stable relationships with the following governments: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile.
As regards South America, Morales’ actions may lead to the following negative consequences:
1. Political turmoil in the region, causing polarisation between those supporting and those rejecting Morales’ stance;
2. Energy issues emerging from a failure to transport Bolivian gas (in Brazil, 51% of natural gas comes from Bolivia and 5.1% of Brazil’s energy grid is dependent upon Bolivian gas);
3. Economic issues emerging from a lack of gas supply in the continent. Ceramic, glass, food and beverage industries are those more heavily dependent on gas for production;
4. A lack of confidence in the region as a whole on the part of foreign investors, due to feeble responses by the main South American governments towards Morales’ breach of contracts. Such weakness may represent to investors that South American governments are unreliable and do not have the commitment to abide by their own contracts.
In order to grasp a better understanding of the scenario, it is essential to understand the previous situation, and how it has changed, for companies exploiting natural gas in Bolivia. In May 2005, the Bolivian Congress passed a bill to tax prospecting companies 32%, in addition to the current duty of 18% charged in the form of royalties. Arguing that the contracts had been closed “illegally” and in an “unfair” way, Morales’ decree of nationalisation raised duty on gas from 50% to 82%. It was also declared that companies not complying with the new regime will have to leave the country within 180 days.
In addition to this, there is another event worth noting to understand on some forecasts for the continent. A week prior to the nationalisation decree, the Bolivian President announced that his government did not have the technical capability to occupy foreign companies in order to nationalise them. However, upon fulfilling his decree, Morales made it known that the technical portion of the process would be carried out by Venezuelan specialists from PDVSA (Venezuela’s state-owned oil company).
The attitudes adopted in by the Presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela clearly show that Morales was only capable of taking such steps under the auspices of Hugo Chávez. Since taking office as President in 1998, the latter has cultivated an obsession with disseminating the thoughts of Simon Bolívar (the liberator of several South American countries in their struggles for independence) throughout the continent. Bolívar, and likewise Chávez, had dreams of a strong, united Latin America, representing a single Latin American homeland.
Owing to current oil prices on the international market, Chávez relies on a significant budget to sponsor his foreign policy. In addition to several populist measures put into effect in his homeland, the Venezuelan leader has been using the same rhetoric elsewhere in the continent. To forge an ideological coalition around this ideal, he has openly supported the electoral campaigns of certain like-minded candidates in the continent. Morales’ victory in Bolivia was the result of intense involvement by Chávez, and the same support was afforded to the losing candidate in last week’s Presidential election in Peru, nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala.
Hugo Chávez seeks to unify the continent by means of an energetic coalition, merging Venezuela’s oil and Bolivia’s gas into an expensive network of oil and gas refineries and pipelines throughout the whole continent. Part of this agenda has already been put into action with the construction of refineries in Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. The current scenario in Bolivia stands as a major victory for Chávez, who intends to fill the vacuum left by foreign companies as they depart Bolivia or reduce investment in the country.
Morales’ second pledge
The (partial) fulfillment of the first of Morales’ pledges raises yet more concerns with respect to the second banner of his campaign. The whole continent dreads that, incensed by the national passion of the Bolivian people and Chávez’s support, Morales will engage in a more drastic attitude while seeking to secure access to the sea.
It is very clear today that Chile will not relinquish the northern region of the country, and is thus in opposition to Bolivian intentions. However, the odds of military conflict remain low. Chile has one of the best-trained and best-equipped armies in South America, having purchased eleven F-16 fighters during the last days of Ricardo Lago’s administration, now strategically and significantly stationed at Iquique military base, 200 km from the Bolivian border. At the time of the purchase of these aircraft, the country’s Minister of Defense was current President Michelle Bachelet.
It is likely that in order to ward off tense entanglements with Chile, Morales will adopt measures even more populist in his own country to offset a failure to recover the area lost to Chile. This will imply greater involvement for Chávez, as Morales does not have the budget to carry out significant reforms.