Bolivia's Morales Appoints New Hydrocarbons Minister

Bolivia's President Evo Morales has named Andres Soliz Rada as the country's new hydrocarbons minister, replacing Mauricio Medinacelli, government news service ABI reported.

Soliz is a lawyer and columnist for Bolivian newspaper El Diario. He has written several books and papers on the topic of hydrocarbons in which he has been very critical of privatization and Washington's neoliberal development model, a hydrocarbons ministry spokesperson told BNamericas.

Soliz also acted as congressman in the nationalist CONDEPA party from 1993-97, during which time he proposed an anti-corruption bill that would have mandated the investigation of fortunes acquired through suspicious means, although the bill did not pass the spokesperson said.

Furthermore, Soliz was a member of the transition committee of Morales' administration with respect to hydrocarbons, local media reported.

Soliz's predecessor Medinacelli provided information to the transition committee over the course of three weeks and six meetings before leaving office, ABI previously reported.

The most important issues Medinacelli discussed with the transition committee were hydrocarbons transport, incentives for investment in marginal fields and jet fuel prices, ABI reported.

One of the most pressing issues Soliz will face in office is the issue of natural gas exports to Argentina and Brazil, and in particular the intention of the Morales government to increase gas prices for exports to Argentina.

In addition, Soliz will need to resolve the issue of the migration of contracts held by foreign oil companies to new contracts under the controversial new hydrocarbons law. The law, passed last year, stipulates a combined tax and royalty rate of 50% on hydrocarbons production, but companies have so far refused to accept the new terms.

Soliz will also have to study proposals regarding how to solve the problem of domestic shortages of diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), ABI reported.

Morales has promised to nationalize the hydrocarbons industry and strengthen state oil firm YPFB, but it is not yet clear what steps his administration will take in that direction.

Morales, the candidate of Bolivia's left-wing MAS socialist party, won the national election in December with 54% of the vote, giving the MAS party a majority in congress. After meeting with heads of state in Europe, Asia and other Latin American countries, Morales assumed power on January 22.

He is Bolivia's first indigenous president and has promised to reverse "500 years of discrimination."

In his inaugural address, Morales again highlighted the need for increased state participation in the energy sector, and foreign partners as opposed to foreign owners in the exploitation of Bolivia's natural resources, ABI reported.

Morales also voiced his support for the proposed region-wide energy company known as Petroamerica, the brainchild of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Morales is close personal friends with Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Washington is watching closely as Morales has in the past opposed US efforts to eradicate coca plantations in Bolivia.

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