- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales is inviting his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez to “teach us how” to change Bolivia’s constitution, battle “gringos” and defeat the “oligarchy.”

Mr. Chavez, the architect of a leftist “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela,” is to join Mr. Morales next week at a massive rally that would start a drive for a new Bolivian constitution.

“I guarantee you the presence of comrade Chavez, who will teach us how he brought forward a new constitution in Venezuela and fought with the gringos and the oligarchy,” Mr. Morales said in announcing the May 18 rally.

The event, in the coca-growing region of Chapare, will mark the start of the election of a constitutional assembly, Mr. Morales said in a speech Monday.

Mr. Morales’ push for a new constitution follows his nationalization of the oil and natural gas industry earlier this month.

Bolivian officials say hundreds of Venezuelan advisers are working with the Bolivian government to implement the industry takeover.

“There is no doubt that that populist nationalism in Bolivia is being inspired and assisted by President Chavez. There is a clear coordination,” said Rubens Barbosa, director of the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Mr. Barbosa, who earlier served as Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, pointed to an April 29 ceremony in Havana, in which Mr. Morales joined Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Mr. Chavez in signing a socialist trade pact known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.

Brazilian business interests, with major investments in Bolivia, especially in the energy industry, stand to be displaced by Venezuela.

Mr. Chavez was in Bolivia May 3 to back Mr. Morales when Mr. Morales decreed state ownership of oil and gas production. He ordered troops to seize offices of major energy companies including Brazil’s Petrobras.

Mr. Chavez later helped his Bolivian counterpart gain acceptance for the nationalization at a summit with the presidents of Brazil and Argentina — the major buyers of Bolivian natural-gas exports.

The nationalization was carried a decisive step further on Monday, when Hydrocarbons Minister Andres Solis Rada appointed 25 new directors, including several military officers, to head local subsidiaries of international oil companies and merge them with Bolivia’s state energy company.

Mr. Rada said consultants from Venezuela’s state-directed oil enterprise PDVSA would be assisting in an audit of foreign oil companies.

Bolivian officials readily acknowledge that up to 700 Venezuelan technicians have entered the country to work with key ministries and state enterprises.

“These technicians are in Bolivia at the request of the government to help in the reconstruction and restructuring of Fiscal Bolivian Oil Reserves,” said Antonio Peredo, a top leader of Bolivia’s ruling Movement Toward Socialism and president of the Senate constitutional committee.

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