- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VIENNA, Austria — Bolivia would like to become a member of the powerful OPEC oil cartel, President Evo Morales said yesterday at a European Union-Latin American summit.

“I would like my country to be part of OPEC,” Mr. Morales said at the summit, which he shocked Thursday by saying that his government would not compensate foreign companies for assets they might lose after Bolivia nationalizes its oil and gas resources.

About joining the 11-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which controls about one-third of the world’s oil, Mr. Morales told reporters: “It is a desire. Who wouldn’t like to be one of those countries?”

Bolivia is the second major producer of natural gas in Latin America but is much less influential as an oil producer, producing around a modest 40,000 barrels per day.

OPEC-member Venezuela is Latin America’s main oil producer, with an output of more than 2 million barrels per day.

Mr. Morales said Bolivia was “recovering” the country’s natural resources following his May 1 decree nationalizing Bolivia’s energy industry, a move that has worried foreign energy producers in the country.

“How can we enter OPEC if we do not control our natural resources?” Mr. Morales asked rhetorically.

The left-winger, elected in December as his country’s first indigenous leader, added that “OPEC countries have great interest in talking bilaterally” to his government.

Spain, whose Repsol-YPF energy giant has invested more than $1.2 million in Bolivia since 1997, is one of the countries most affected by Mr. Morales’ decision to nationalize.

The company, the world’s seventh-biggest energy producer, accounted for 25.7 percent of Bolivian gas production through its subsidiary Andina prior to nationalization.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, also attending the summit of the 25 EU states and their Latin and Caribbean counterparts, said just before Mr. Morales’ announcement that the pair had enjoyed a positive meeting in Vienna.

“It was a positive and sincere meeting and one which brought clarification” of Mr. Morales’ energy policy, Mr. Zapatero said.

“It’s clear that the future interests of Spanish firms linked to the hydrocarbons sector must be handled through bilateral relations,” Mr. Zapatero said.

Last week, Repsol YPF said it intended to stay in Bolivia and would cooperate with the Morales government “while not renouncing the defense of its rights” and in a manner that it hoped would “limit the fallout.”

Mr. Morales has given foreign energy companies 180 days to agree to new contracts with Bolivia’s state oil firm, YPFB, which will become the majority shareholder in energy companies operating in Bolivia.

Bolivia’s Latin American neighbors share Spanish concerns, and Brazil, which relies heavily on La Paz for its energy needs, described the nationalization move as an unfriendly act while Brazilian energy group Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobas, said it would scrap plans to lay a new pipeline to its neighbor.

Petrobas said yesterday it is in talks to be compensated for the seizure of its assets by Bolivia.

Mr. Morales says he wants foreign companies to stay in his country but that they “must not be the masters of our natural resources.”

The indigenous leader is a close ally of fellow left-winger and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has backed his policy.

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