By Luis Miguel Pascual
PARIS -- Bolivian President Evo Morales received here Tuesday the support of his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, for his reform policy and also received the backing of French companies interested in exploiting lithium and natural gas in the Andean nation.
Morales said that during their meeting at the Elysees Palace, Sarkozy "hailed Bolivia's new constitution ... (and) the peaceful transformations" the socialist head of state is leading in the poor South American country.
To support them, France will collaborate in the founding of an administrative school that, Morales said, should serve to train officials "of the new plurinational state" mandated by the new Bolivian charter.
Sarkozy will come to La Paz next September to inaugurate the school after accepting an invitation to visit Bolivia, according to Morales' delegation.
But Morales also gained French support in the economic sphere, with the establishment of credit lines for buying assorted products, including helicopters, sources said.
A large part of Morales' visit to Paris, where he arrived from Moscow, had a marked economic character.
The Bolivian president met with the heads of the companies Bollore and Total to discuss the exploitation, respectively, of lithium and natural gas in the his country.
Lithium has a particular strategic importance for Bolivia given that it holds half the world's resources of the valuable mineral used in building batteries to power electric cars.
Bollore is developing an electric car along with Italy's Pininfarina, and so it is interested in the lithium found in the Uyuni salt flats in southwestern Bolivia.
Morales spoke with company chief Vincent Bollore and tried out one of the electric car prototypes.
In addition to exporting lithium, it's also important for Bolivia to be able to participate in industrializing that sector at home, the president said.
"We want to participate in all aspects of the manufacture of the lithium car. We want to make electric cars in Bolivia," Morales said.
With Total, one of the world's biggest petroleum companies, the Bolivian leader also moved closer in his stance on exploitation of natural gas, but Morales said that the multinational must "accelerate the investment" it has already promised to make in Bolivia, which has an estimated 48 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The Bolivian president said that the new constitution strengthens the country's legal security since from now on government contracts with multinationals will be subject to ratification by Congress.
Morales ended his visit with a speech at the prestigious Sciences Po university, where he reviewed the history of his social movement and of how he rose from grinding poverty to become the first indigenous president of the Indian-majority country. EFE