Bolivia's President Signs New Deals with Foreign Energy Companies

LA PAZ, Dec 04, 2006 (AP)

President Evo Morales has signed contracts giving the government control over foreign energy companies' operations, completing a process begun May 1 with the nationalization of Bolivia's petroleum industry.

The deals, signed by the companies last month, grant Morales' government a majority share of the foreign companies' revenues generated in Bolivia. Companies that signed contracts include Brazilian state energy giant Petrobras (PZE), Spanish-Argentine Repsol YPF (REP), France's Total SA (TOT), and British Gas, a unit of BG Group PLC (BP).

Morales also announced Sunday that Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) had agreed to transfer to his government majority control of its Bolivian subsidiary Transredes, which operates the country's largest network of gas pipelines.

Bolivia's natural gas reserves are South America's largest after those in Venezuela.

"We thank the Bolivian people who have struggled to recover their natural resources," Morales said in a signing ceremony at the presidential palace in the capital of La Paz. "We have now completed the first step. This process will continue next year with the recovery of other natural resources benefiting the Bolivian people."

Morales has said he also plans to nationalize Bolivia's mining sector.

Morales - the nation's first president descended from Bolivia's indigenous people - also has vowed to reverse centuries of dominance by the country's European-descended minority, granting greater political and economic power to the poor indigenous majority.

The contracts signed by the president Sunday were ratified by Bolivia's Senate in a hastily called session Tuesday night, during which lawmakers from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party also pushed through a sweeping land-reform bill and an open-ended military cooperation pact with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The session ended a boycott by conservative lawmakers who intended to block Morales' reforms. But opposition leaders have questioned the legality of the session, in which assistants of two absent senators were called in to vote.

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