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  HOME | Bolivia

Morales calls for investment in Bolivia
MADRID – Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales said here Thursday that Spanish business interests would not be trampled by his leftist administration, and called on capitalists here to help him foment social reform by continuing to invest in the Andean nation.

Spanish companies “have nothing to fear” from the incoming Bolivian government, and Spain “has the responsibility to invest” in the Andean nation to promote development, Morales said.

In brief comments to reporters, the Socialist president-elect, who will become his nation’s first Indian head of state when he takes office later this month, referred to his plans to put an end to the “neoliberal” economic model in Bolivia.

Neoliberal is the term used by Latin American leftists to describe what they see as unbridled capitalism, exemplified in their view by the economic policies promoted by the United States and multilateral financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He also mentioned social development projects and programs for supporting small businesses as among the initiatives his administration plans to implement once in office.

Morales ended the Spanish leg of his international tour with a meeting with United Left general coordinator Gaspar Llamazares and leaders of the UGT labor confederation and the Communist Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) union. He also visited the Elcano Institute, a think tank specializing in political analysis.

The meetings wrapped up the tight agenda of the Bolivian president-elect, who met Wednesday with Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, King Juan Carlos, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and Industry Minister José Montilla.

Over the course of his roughly 36 hours in Madrid, the Bolivian Socialist leader limited his public comments, in contrast to what happened during his visits to Cuba and Venezuela, but he made the ideology that will guide his administration clear, saying that his “only difference” with guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara was over the fact that the Argentine revolutionary took up arms.

Morales said his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), took a different approach, gaining power through the ballot box. The MAS founder and leader made nationalization of natural resources, especially Bolivia’s abundant reserves of natural gas, a key plank of his platform. Morales, in his second run for the presidency, won with 53.7 percent of the vote on Dec. 18.

His resounding victory at the polls, however, will not allow him to govern with a free hand since he did not get a majority of the seats in the Senate.

Now, on the verge of taking office, Morales promised the Spanish government and investors legal security for companies operating in Bolivia, although he said his administration would exercise “the property rights” of the state over natural resources.

Morales, nevertheless, said that would not mean “seizing, expropriating or expelling the companies” that obeyed the law. The Spanish government urged Bolivia’s next president to rely on “negotiations” for resolving disputes and made it clear that it would defend the interests of Spanish companies operating abroad.

In any case, the government and investors will have to wait and see how Morales’s policy toward foreign investment evolves since he has not yet taken office, Spanish officials said.

The Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations also took a wait-and-see approach toward Morales after leading executives had lunch with the Bolivian president-elect.

Morales told the business leaders that he wanted to have an “open and very sincere dialogue” with the companies operating in Bolivia that would start as soon as he was sworn in Jan. 22. The president-elect told his hosts that natural resources “belong to the people and it is the state who should manage them.”

Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF, which operates the main oil and gas fields in Bolivia, controls about 20 percent of the Andean nation’s gas reserves.

Bolivia possesses South America’s second-largest reserves of natural gas, some 48.7 trillion cubic feet, after Venezuela.

Bolivian authorities on May 17, 2005, implemented a reform of the energy industry that imposed a 50 percent combined tax and royalty on the mainly foreign-owned firms that extract the Andean nation’s oil and natural gas.

In October 2001, Spain and Bolivia signed a reciprocal investment protection agreement that subsequently was made law by both national legislatures.

The accord establishes that if a disagreement arises that cannot be resolved amicably within six months from the start of negotiations, it will be submitted – at the request of either of the parties – to an arbitration panel.

Morales thanked the Spanish government for forgiving the majority of the Andean nation’s debt.

The Bolivian president-elect, who is not yet familiar with the formalities of official ceremonies, drew the praise of observers in Spain for wearing colorful informal attire that contrasted with the dark suits of his government and business hosts.

Morales traveled from Spain to Brussels, the next leg on an international tour that will also take him to France, China, South Africa and Brazil. EFE

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