Bolivia Elects New President Who Vows to Increase Oil Taxes on Foreign Cos.

Movement to Socialism candidate Evo Morales claimed victory yesterday in Bolivia's presidential election, winning 51 percent of the vote to become leader of South America's poorest country, but the continent's second-largest producer of natural gas.

Morales, who defeated former President Jorge Quiroga, reiterated his promise yesterday to enforce legislation increasing state control over oil and gas and increase taxes on foreign oil companies.

Officials election results will not be announced until tomorrow, but two exit polls showed Morales had received 51 percent of the vote and led Quiroga by 20 points. Morales would be Bolivia's first indigenous head of state.

"The new history of Bolivia has started: to fairness, in peace, and to the change that the Bolivian people are expecting," Morales said (Jose Luis Varela, Agence France-Presse, Dec. 19).

Morales played a large role over the past three years in protests against two former Bolivian presidents over oil and gas policy. In 2002, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada negotiated a deal with several oil companies that opponents said was a sellout. Widespread rioting later caused Sanchez de Lozada to flee the country into exile.

Once in office, Morales could face international arbitration proceedings from oil and gas companies such as Repsol, British Gas and Total. At issue is a 32 percent tax on foreign energy companies operating in Bolivia, enacted by the government in May. The Spanish firm Repsol has threatened to suspend "significant" operations in Bolivia due to the tax (Greenwire, Dec. 15). -- DRL

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202/628-6500.